MLB exploring 10-team divisions to resume season this summer

Apr 29, 2020, 9:53 AM | Updated: 1:29 pm

Citi Field is empty on the scheduled date for Opening Day March 26, 2020 in Flushing, New York. (Ph...

Citi Field is empty on the scheduled date for Opening Day March 26, 2020 in Flushing, New York. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

(Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

Major League Baseball is exploring various options that could allow the season to start if the medical situation allows, including a plan in which the 30 teams might be split into three regional divisions.

Among the formats under consideration is one in which teams could be restricted to playing within their region, two people familiar with the discussions said Tuesday. The latest plan was first reported by USA Today’s Bob Nightengale, who joined Arizona Sports’ Doug & Wolf on Wednesday morning to discuss the idea.

“If they can start off and say by July 4 weekend, they can still get 100, 110 games in,” he said. “So they’re going to play through at least mid-October, and then they’re devising some kind of wild playoff system. Thirty teams in baseball, I wouldn’t be shocked to see 20 teams make the playoff sort of thing. I think what they’re hoping to do is kind of create some kind of wild March Madness thing for baseball.”

That plan, if used, would break up the traditional alignments of the American and National leagues. It also would cut travel during the coronavirus pandemic.

MLB also has looked at configurations for all-Arizona, Arizona-and-Florida and Arizona-plus-Texas-plus-Florida locations.

“If worst comes to worst, they can start off doing the Florida-Arizona-Texas plan, but they really would like to have teams in their own ballparks and players want that,” Nightengale said. “This way, the families could be with the players and hopefully everybody gets to play at their home stadium. Which obviously the owners want it, too, for advertising and sponsorships, that sort of thing. Bring a lot more normalcy.”

Another variation would have teams start in Arizona, Texas and Florida, playing in empty ballparks, and then if the health situation allows, switch later to their regular-season sites. If conditions improve later in the year, they possibly could start playing before fans with only a percentage of seats sold.

“The hope and dream, of course, is that you at least get some fans in by the end of the regular season and then come postseason time, I’m not sure you can still have sellout crowds, but at least a lot more fans creating an atmosphere,” Nightengale said.

Opening day had been scheduled for March 26, but the new coronavirus caused MLB to initially delay the start to mid-May at the earliest.

Any plan would be subject to medical approval plus consent of federal, state and local authorities. Any schedule with games at neutral sites or without fans would require an agreement between MLB and the players’ association.

Baseball officials have told the union of their thinking but have not made any formal proposals.

Any plan would be contingent on baseball gaining access to test about 3,000 people on a regular basis: about 1,200 players plus staff and broadcast personnel. Players most likely would need three to four weeks of workouts before opening day.

“This is the first time where there’s so much optimism among baseball officials,” Nightengale said. “Before, it was a situation where it was a flip of a coin if we can play baseball or not. Now everybody really believes that, ‘Hey, we are going to play baseball.’ So I  think they’re hoping to get people underway by late June, they’d love to start the season. If not, by that July 4 weekend, and then go from there. So they think that as long as there’s testing available for everybody, they can make this work.”

Baseball officials have been encouraged by statements about the prospect of starting the season from President Donald Trump, Govs. Greg Abbott (Texas), Andrew Cuomo (New York) and Tom Wolf (Pennsylvania) and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, one of the people said.

In a sign of baseball’s significance, Cuomo appointed Yankees president Randy Levine and Mets chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon to his New York Forward re-opening advisory board on Tuesday.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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