Atlanta Braves could join AL East clubs in radical realignment plan

We've noted that every oddball idea for getting this season going is now on the table.  The latest? Have our Atlanta Braves play like it's Springtime all year.

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An Atlanta Braves vs. Red Sox lineup card might become common under this new plan. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Under a new MLB plan floated in the media yesterday, the Atlanta Braves' new home in North Port might be one of the keys putting an 'all Florida-all-the-time' plan into motion.

As the Braves moved from Disney World to the Southwest corner of Florida this year, that relocation might have been helpful in this geographic realignment idea.

Last week, the idea was to have all thirty MLB teams muster around the greater Phoenix area to get the season going.  That plan seems to be losing steam as critics (including this one) jumped all over the idea as having too many potential obstacles - including the part about having 11 stadiums for the 30 clubs.

This week, Bob Nightengale of USA Today is reporting that essentially the same concept for starting the 2020 season is being considered, though with a change that as least overcomes the venue crunch problem.

This latest-leaked idea is to do the following:

  • Regionally group the 30 teams into 6 brand new divisions based on their Spring Training sites.
  • Ignore National/American League designations - which would require a universal Designated Hitter rule.  Call them the Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues if you want.

As Nightengale characterizes 'one realignment structure', it could look like this for Atlanta:

  • Grapefruit League South Division
    • Boston Red Sox
    • Minnesota Twins
    • Atlanta Braves
    • Tampa Bay Rays
    • Baltimore Orioles

So the Braves would join 3 clubs from the (traditional?) AL East along with Minnesota - their closest rivals in Florida after the move to North Port.

Their new stadium actually makes this somewhat viable since the Braves would not be saddled with the worst travel considerations in the league - that would have been the situation coming from Disney World.

Problems Still Remain

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Cool Today Park - the newest in-season home of the Atlanta Braves? (Photo by Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

While this certainly helps get past some of the Arizona-only issues, this doesn't completely fix everything.  Here are some pros and cons that MLB would have to work through:

  • PRO SIDE
    • More stadiums to work with.
    • The domed parks at St. Petersburg (Tropicana Field) and Miami (Marlins Park) might also be leveraged
    • Acceptable travel distances for the most part
    • Avoids forcing teams to play outdoors in the middle of the day in an Arizona summer (part of the real problem shoving 30 clubs onto 11 fields)
    • Fewer issues with extra-inning games
  • SOME OF THE CONS
    • Florida weather issues (rain, heat, humidity, mosquitos, hurricanes) in the Summer might not be a lot better than Arizona, though all clubs could schedule evening games
    • Still could have some heat issues in Arizona (though evenings would be tolerable, averaging low 80's with little humidity)
    • Still have to sequester teams, plus hotel and game staffs stringently
    • East coast of Florida is actually a bit tight on facilities:  Nationals and Astros share a new venue in West Palm; the Marlins and Cardinals are together in Jupiter.  Miami's stadium is a bit over an hour away.
    • "Inter-league play" (i.e., crossovers from Arizona-to-Florida and v.v.) would be out.

This strict geographic alignment - based on Nightengale's work - also has the chance to potentially hose some teams with new divisional rivals they hadn't counted on:

  • Minnesota - while they were expecting their chief competition to come from the Indians and White Sox, this 'Grapefruit South' division looks like it could make their road to the playoffs much more difficult.
  • White Sox fans were likewise hoping for at least a Wild Card berth in the AL Central, but they could end up in a Cactus West division that includes the Dodgers, Reds, Indians, and Angels.  No Detroit, no Kansas City to roll over.
  • On the flip side, Rangers and Brewers fans might like a Cactus Northwest division including these teams with the Royals, Mariners, and Padres.

No doubt, there would be howls of protest if the Yankees and Red Sox aren't in the same division... as Nightengale suggests, that's not in the plan he published.

New York would end up with the Phillies, Jays, Tigers, and Pirates... which might give them an easier time.

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Radical Relocation

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The Atlanta Braves might have to see a lot of this 'mini-monster' this Summer. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

THAT LEADS TO ANOTHER IDEA that I'm sure the MLB hang-wringers have already bandied about:  shift teams around between Arizona and Florida so that you end up with the current divisions, but in Spring stadiums they don't normally call 'home'.

For example, you've got 3 of the NL East clubs on the East Coast of Florida already.  A means of reconstituting the full division might look like this:  bring the Atlanta Braves over to join Washington in West Palm (where they once spent many-a-Spring), put the Phillies in Jupiter to join the Marlins there.  The Mets are just up the coast in Port St. Lucie.

The now-displaced Cardinals then hop to Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, the Yankees head to North Port... and so the games of musical stadiums progresses until all divisions are co-located.

The biggest problem there?  If you're really going to do that, you'd need to have all of the AL in one state and NL in the other.  At least it would avoid forcing a universal DH rule for at least one more year.

CONTRACTUAL ISSUES.  One additional potential problem for the Atlanta Braves involves their agreement with the city of North Port and Sarasota County.  There are civic events scheduled throughout the year that require use the 90-acre site: this was part of the plan that got local buy-in (literally) for the facility.

Of course, given the current climate, the scheduling for a lot of those events may be up in the air, and the local governing authorities could well be open to the idea of having major league games - even if not attended by fans - in the park as a means of regaining some lost revenues.

Those are all details that would have to be worked out over time.

As we suggested last week, there's plenty of motivation for all parties involved to get some plan in motion.  This newest idea continues to reflect the fact that MLB and the players association are still trying to come up with some way to play baseball this Summer.

THE REAL PROBLEM.  Until there's a viable, approved vaccine for COVID-19, the specter of contamination is still going to be a real possibility since this blasted virus is so easily transmitted.

Next: Big Picture: Braves set up for short season?

As such, once any player gets the bug - and it will happen - everything would then be thrown into chaos, for this is the one scenario that would easily and quickly derail even the most perfect of these imperfect plans.