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The Year of the Grapefruit League?

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Pittsburgh Pirates v New York Yankees
We just wanna play ball, dude.
Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

Earlier this week, ESPN’s Jeff Passan reported about “the Arizona Bubble,” in which all MLB teams would be sequestered and play out a season at empty spring training parks in Arizona, as the parks are all located within the Valley of the Sun area. Yesterday, Bob Nightengale of USA Today wrote that MLB may want to take it one step further and split teams up geographically between Arizona and Florida. It would still involve playing in empty ballparks and players living in quarantine hotels, but obviously wouldn’t involve overloading one particular area.

Should this happen, American League and National League teams will be mixed into the same divisions. Here’s how the proposed leagues would be set up according to one plan:

GRAPEFRUIT LEAGUE

  • NORTH: New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies, Toronto Blue Jays, Detroit Tigers, Pittsburgh Pirates
  • SOUTH: Boston Red Sox, Minnesota Twins, Atlanta Braves, Tampa Bay Rays, Baltimore Orioles
  • EAST: Washington Nationals, Houston Astros, New York Mets, St. Louis Cardinals, Miami Marlins

CACTUS LEAGUE

  • NORTHEAST: Chicago Cubs, San Francisco Giants, Arizona Diamondbacks, Colorado Rockies, Oakland Athletics
  • WEST: Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago White Sox, Cincinnati Reds, Cleveland Indians, Los Angeles Angels
  • NORTHWEST: Milwaukee Brewers, San Diego Padres, Seattle Mariners, Texas Rangers, Kansas City Royals

Although the usual “MLB official spoke on the condition of anonymity because the proposal is one of several being discussed” tag is in play, it’s an intriguing idea. Per the Nightengale article, this would allow for three weeks of “spring training,” including games, then the season would consist of 108 games, with 12 games each against interdivisional teams and six games apiece with other teams in the new leagues. It’s also highly likely that the DH would be used, and there would probably be at least one doubleheader a day due to the uneven number of teams in divisions.

Going from the National League Central to the Grapefruit League North makes things interesting for the Pirates when last year’s standings are considered:

  • New York Yankees 103-59
  • Philadelphia Phillies 81-81
  • Pittsburgh Pirates 69-93
  • Toronto Blue Jays 67-95
  • Detroit Tigers 47-114

Yes, there are the Yankees, but the rest of the division would consist of the meh Phillies, the slightly-worse-than-the-Bucs Blue Jays, and the putrid Tigers. The Grapefruit League has a slight American League edge, and the Pirates went 12-8 against American League teams in 2019, including going 3-1 against Detroit. Although none of their DHs used (Josh Bell, Melky Cabrera and Gregory Polanco) set the world on fire, it should be noted that five of their eight interleague losses came at home without a DH.

Of course, that’s a small sample, I can hear the cries of “we were almost oh-for-spring training,” and I’m definitely not saying that the Pirates would suddenly become awesome. However, playing in what would essentially be the longest spring training ever, at the very least it would be fun to see how the Bucs would do.

And at a time like this, we could all use some fun.