Keston Hiura

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Which teams would benefit the most from plan to play in Florida and Arizona?

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Earlier today, we wrote about how MLB is considering a plan that would have teams play out the regular season at their spring training facilities, if and when the coronavirus pandemic has been curtailed enough to allow sports to resume. The American and National Leagues would be abandoned in favor the preexisting Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues, with new divisions being created within those leagues. All 30 teams would likely use a designated hitter.

Bob Nightengale’s report outlines a possible realignment structure for the league divisions, which would be formed based on each facility’s geographic location within Arizona and Florida. That would lead to some pretty interesting matchups. While we don’t know how many games (if any) are going to be played, we do know that the other members of a team’s division heavily impact the level of success that each team enjoys.

Ignoring the many logistical headaches that would go into setting up a post-pandemic league and the very real possibility that even a single player testing positive would derail competition, let’s take a look at these divisions and examine the balance of power in this potential brave new world of baseball. Potential is the key word there. This is just one of many possible scenarios being looked at by MLB. We have no clue if this is what 2020 baseball will wind up looking like. But you’re looking for content to read, so screw it.

Grapefruit League

North Division: Yankees, Phillies, Blue Jays, Tigers, Pirates

Boy, it must be nice to be the New York Yankees. You basically print money, you get to sign Gerrit Cole, you have Aaron Judge and you might get to play in this cakewalk of a division. That’s no disrespect to the Phillies, who added a few more pieces over the winter and should have a fully healthy Andrew McCucthen at their disposal. Is that enough to make them a force to be reckoned with? Maybe, as long as you don’t look at the bullpen for too long.

The Jays are also more than a little interesting. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette will be looking to break out and Hyun-Jin Ryu is a damn good pitcher. I’m just not ready to anoint them as contenders yet, given that the talent level on the roster drops off rather dramatically once you get past the sexier names.

The Tigers and Pirates are bad. Real bad. The Yankees feasted on the corpses of the 2019 Orioles, and they’d basically be playing with two of teams of that quality to bully around. The Yankees should be into the playoffs on roller skates in this alignment.

South Division: Red Sox, Twins, Braves, Rays, Orioles

Remember what I just said about the Orioles? They might be worse this year, given that they shipped their best player out to Miami. Jonathan Villar is now taking his talents to South Beach (more on the Marlins later). I’m a big Austin Hays guy and I will tolerate zero disrespect for 2019 All-Star John Means, but Baltimore’s brass is more interested in competing with the Tigers and Pirates for next year’s first overall pick than they are in winning baseball games.

The whole “winning” thing would be especially hard in this division. The Twins, Braves and Rays are all heavyweight teams. The Red Sox are decent enough too. They’d be a lot better if they hadn’t traded away a generational talent in Mookie Betts and if Chris Sale‘s elbow didn’t liquify, but they’re a cromulent squad.

I think I like the Rays the best out of these teams? They have such a complete roster, especially if they get a full season of the 2019 version of Tyler Glasnow. Any one of the top three teams could take this division, but I’m giving the edge to Tampa by a hair.

East Division: Nationals, Astros, Mets, Cardinals, Marlins

The good news for the Marlins is that they shouldn’t be putridly bad in 2020. They’ve got some halfway decent players! Jonathan Villar! Corey Dickerson! Caleb Smith! The bad news is that they can basically collect their consolation prize on Opening Day. Thanks for playing Miami, we’ll see you in three years.

Both the Nats and Astros were in the World Series last year. Let’s start with that. They’re real good. The Cardinals are the Cardinals, who will be at least competitive even if me and eight of my best friends made up the starting lineup. And then there’s the Mets.

Ah, the Mets. They’ve got a good roster on paper. It gets even better if Dellin Betances rebounds from a year lost to injury and Edwin Diaz does the same from a year lost to Extreme Metsiness. If Robinson Cano remembers that he’s Robinson Cano? Even better. New York’s lost Noah Syndergaard to the UCL devils but they’re still good. On paper. This is still the Mets we’re dealing with here. They’ll find a way to turn this into finishing within a game or two of .500.

Expect the Astros to walk away with this one, but it’ll be close.

Cactus League

Northeast Division: Cubs, Giants, Diamondbacks, Rockies, A’s

This feels like Oakland’s division to lose. We do a weird thing every winter where we forget how good the A’s are, and then they go out and win 90+ games. This year they’ll have Jesus Luzardo and A.J. Puk to deploy to spin truly ridiculous sliders. And ironically, a shorter season could actually benefit those two young starters given their checkered medical histories. Matts Chapman and Olson are real good at baseball, Marcus Semien played like an MVP candidate last year, and Liam Hendriks is apparently now one of the best relievers in the world. Imagine if Khris Davis rebounds and hits .247 again. The A’s are built for this.

The rest of the division is a mess of mediocrity and also the Rockies, who seem to exist purely to piss off Nolan Arenado. The Cubs barely did anything this offseason after being aggressively mediocre in 2019 and the Giants are still searching for a post-mini dynasty identity. Arizona gets points for signing Madison Bumgarner and trading for Starling Marte, but I don’t think they’re in Oakland’s weight class.

West Division: Angels, Dodgers, White Sox, Reds, Indians

Now this would be fun. The Dodgers are the Dodgers, and the White Sox and Reds both look poised to take major leaps after aggressive winters. The Angels have the greatest player ever. They have Shohei Ohtani, who should be cleared to pitch by the time the season picks up, and they now have Anthony Rendon. Please do not ask any questions about the bullpen. That would be very inconsiderate of you.

Cleveland is tougher to dissect. Shane Bieber is Really Good now, and Mike Clevinger could be healthy when play resumes. They’re also short one Corey Kluber. They managed to avoid trading Francisco Lindor for the second offseason in a row, so they’ve got that going for them, which is nice. The state of the outfield depends largely on how good you think Oscar Mercado and Domingo Santana are. Franmil Reyes is a large lad who hits big dingers, which is good.

They might also have the best bullpen in baseball. You know about Brad Hand. You’re also about to meet James Karinchak and Emmanuel Clase. Karinchak, who briefly surfaced last year, has a curveball fueled by the wrath of the almighty and a sizzling fastball. Clase, acquired in the Kluber deal, steals souls with his slider. Nick Wittgren was also really good last year. Cleveland’s relief corps might be the best-kept secret in the game.

The Dodgers would still win this division.

Northwest Divison: Brewers, Padres, Mariners, Rangers, Royals

I am legally required to continue my longstanding streak of regarding the Padres as Extremely Interesting. Fernando Tatis Jr. is about to become one of the biggest stars in the sport, and the San Diego rotation has the capacity to get absurd in a hurry. Garrett Richards is really good when he’s healthy. Chris Paddack is a monster. Dinelson Lamet has some nasty stuff. We could also see MacKenzie Gore, the best pitching prospect in the game, this year. The bullpen is spicy. The Padres might just have what it takes to win a division this soft.

I don’t know what to make of the Brewers. The rotation is uninspiring, even though I’m a Brandon Woodruff guy and very intrigued by the Josh Lindblom gambit. Obviously having Christian Yelich counts for a lot, and Milwaukee actually stands to benefit a lot from the universal DH rule. They’ll have a way to get Ryan Braun consistent AB’s. The additions of Avisail Garcia and Eric Sogard could be nice if Sogard keeps hitting. Keston Hiura is going to win a batting title at some point. I just don’t have faith in the starting pitching, and the overall depth of the organization leaves a lot to be desired.

Texas has a new ace in Corey Kluber. What they don’t have is the offensive cornerstone they promised to acquire at the start of the offseason. Anthony Rendon went to Anaheim, and Josh Donaldson went to Minnesota. The Rangers’ lineup is a weird mixture of potential and uncertainty. It feels unfinished, because it is in fact unfinished.

The Royals and Mariners are different kinds of bad. There’s not much more to say than that. At least one of these franchises has a ring.

This weird version of baseball may not even come to pass, which means I feel less insecure about crowning the Padres the winners of this theoretical divison.

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