Andy Masur: Give Me Some Baseball….PLEASE!!

White Sox

A sign stands in front of the Guaranteed Rate Field, home of the Chicago White Sox in Chicago, Wednesday, March 25, 2020. There will be empty ballparks on what was supposed to be Major League Baseball’s opening day. The start of the regular season is indefinitely on hold because of the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

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Right now, we’d be nearly two weeks into the Major League Baseball season, but for obvious reasons we aren’t. With the COVID-19 pandemic upon us, safety has become a top priority and of course it should be. There should be no arguing with the “Stay at home” orders, no arguing with social distancing or any other way to help “flatten the curve,” it’s just our reality. But our distractions and diversions are missing.

There’s only so much Netflix, Prime Video or other streaming platforms you can take, right? What to binge next has become the biggest decision many of us has had to make for about a month already. As someone put it on Twitter the other day, “Ok, I’m done with Netflix, what do I do now?”. Meaning, I’ve already watched all I can! I mean can anything really top “Tiger King”? Only one thing in my mind can, BASEBALL. Please!!

Thinking about what could still be for the White Sox this season has me itching to get the baseball season started. When? Where? How? Well these are all spectacular questions that I wish I had the answer for, but I don’t. At least not yet. Though MLB has worked through some scenarios, at least reportedly, so let’s see what they are thinking.

PLAN 1: Have all 30 teams play their games in Arizona. Use all the Spring Training facilities and Chase Field in Phoenix to play a modified schedule. No fans would be allowed in the parks. The plan is to have all the teams in one area to keep a close eye and monitor if the virus is around still. Players, staff and media would basically be sequestered in hotel rooms or apartments between games. They’d only be allowed to go out when heading to or going home from the stadiums. Seems a bit ambitious to me and a bit illogical as far as the schedule is concerned.

I count 10 facilities, or 11 counting Chase. There would have to be 15 games per day, unless doubleheaders are part of the equation. Not just two games for each team, but two games per facility. For example, the White Sox could play in Glendale’s Camelback Ranch in the day time and the Dodgers could play there against another team at night. Makes for a crowded schedule and the need to perhaps find a few more fields in the area, like maybe Phoenix Municipal, the former home of the A’s and now home to Arizona State Baseball. Still that’s just 12 parks with 30 teams in the same crowded area.

This plan was thought to be ready to go by May, giving MLB time to play as close to a full schedule as possible. Not sure that’s a realistic thing, considering Arizona was one of the last states in the union to order a “stay at home” plan.  This one may be a little too ambitious, though I do love the notion of starting next month.

PLAN 2: A plan was unveiled Friday as reported by Bob Nightengale of USA Today. This plan is much more radical, but also pretty cool to me. This one would utilize both Florida and Arizona and take away play in the “National and American Leagues”. It would basically keep the Grapefruit League teams in Florida and the Cactus League teams in Arizona. The beauty is there are 15 teams in each league making it a little more balanced in scheduling. Also, reportedly part of this plan is “radical realignment” within each of the “Leagues”.  So according to the report, this is how each would break down in three divisions:

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

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.

Interesting look isn’t it? Oh, did I mention the plan also reportedly calls for use of the universal DH? Yup. There has been talk about what baseball might look like after possible expansion and when the new collective bargaining agreement goes into effect next year, this could be pretty close. Elimination of the “Leagues” again and a redesigning of divisions which could have the Sox and Cubs in the SAME division. That’s a bit down the road though.

Let’s look at what this PLAN 2 is all about. For those that don’t know, the Cactus League is a much easier travel league. There really isn’t one park that is more than a 45 minute to an hour drive. Not the same can be said for Florida, many of the Grapefruit League games require a short flight to play. In Arizona the teams were grouped by those that share a complex, like the White Sox and Dodgers and by one or two solo park teams. Makes sense. In Florida the geography of where teams are located comprises the divisions, so the games where you’d play the bulk of the games are within driving distance. Plus each team will have a “home base” in which to operate out of, which is ideal.

For the White Sox, they’d be joined by familiar division opponent Cleveland. The Indians are a team somewhat in flux after making a few deals this year, most notable the trade of ace Corey Kluber to Texas. The Reds share a complex with the Indians in Goodyear, AZ. Cincinnati added a bunch this off-season including familiar faces to Sox fans like Nicholas Castellanos and Mike Moustakas. The Angels of course are now managed by former Cubs skipper Joe Maddon. They spent some money in the off-season acquiring Anthony Rendon. Plus, they have arguably the best player in the game, Mike Trout. The Dodgers are the odds-on favorite to win the National League (well now the Cactus League) and they added Mookie Betts. Won’t be an easy trek for the Sox if this plan comes to fruition.

For the Cubs, they get some rebuilding teams and some, well, I’m just not sure about for the upcoming year. The Giants have a new manager and the A’s always seem to be in contention, somehow some way. Arizona basically gets the advantage of playing true “home” games and the Rockies pitching staff may be better off not throwing in Colorado at Coors Field.

This plan is logistically more feasible with almost 30 parks being used including 3 major league parks that have domes (Tropicana Field, Marlins Park, Chase Field). Plus, as mentioned, will cut down on travel times and distances dramatically more than a regular season.

Not mentioned yet is a concrete start time and a finite number of games to be played. Nightengale speculates that there can be 12 games vs. division opponents and 6 games each against those outside. If my math is correct that adds up to 108 total games (48 in division, 60 outside).  There would be at least one doubleheader a night when all teams are scheduled to play because of the odd number of teams in each state.

As far as playoffs, he guesses, there could still be division winners and wild-card winners, perhaps adding two more wild-card teams to each league, or a postseason tournament with all 30 teams. The winner of the Cactus League in Arizona would play the winner of the Grapefruit League in Florida for the World Series championship, utilizing the domed stadiums in late November.

This sounds like the better plan, though there could be some issues. Weather being one of them. In Florida it’s all about rain. In the Summer, it routinely rains at certain times each day depending on the region. That could create a nightmare for scheduling if there are multiple rain outs per day or week. How do you make them up without the season going into December? In Arizona it’s the heat. 100 degrees or more in the Summer will make it tough on players, especially pitchers going deep into games.

Along those lines, I wonder if MLB would consider upping the roster limits to maybe 30, with a chance to perhaps have a “taxi” squad in reserve since the Minor League season may be in jeopardy as well. So, maybe “dress” 30 players each game, but have another 10 that you can use to make roster moves with? Just spit balling here. Something will have to be done to protect players from injury.

Whichever plan, the all Arizona, the Arizona-Florida or another one, goes into effect, I’ll just be happy to talk and see some baseball being played. If it can be done safely keeping everybody’s well-being in mind, I’m all for it. Let’s go!

Remember, you’ll hear every Chicago White Sox game broadcast on WGN Radio, 720AM!

Read more of Masur’s Musings here.

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