Throughout the Easter weekend, as I sat around and did nothing but play video games, paint and lose brain cells to YouTube and Hulu, one subject somehow kept rattling into the back of my mind, where it sat there trapped for spurts of time — how wild are the proposed divisional alignments that Major League Baseball is considering in an attempt to get some sort of season in?
At the start of the weekend, USA Today’s Bob Nightengale broke the news that baseball, building off of their proposals for getting back to action that I discussed last week, is now contemplating a total change to league and divisional play as we know it. Rather than the American and National leagues, each with an east, central and west division, the proposal is to split the teams according to spring training locations, with half the league to play in Arizona (Cactus League) and the other half in Florida (Grapefruit League).
Nightengale’s story included information that teams would spend the abbreviated season playing against other teams in the state. To keep some sort of consistency, each league would again have three divisions of five teams, based on the geography of their spring training locations.
I should probably mention before I get any further that I still am not on board with a return until a more appropriate time, as much as it pains me to say. But with the current lull in sports, paired with the sheer absurdity of this idea, why not have a little fun and imagine how a season with these proposed divisions would shake out for our Chicago teams, both of whom find themselves in the Cactus League?
Northeast Division: Arizona Diamondbacks, Colorado Rockies, Oakland Athletics, San Fransisco Giants
One of these things is not like the others, as the Cubbies sit in a division with teams from the left coast in this proposal. If any team has seen a benefit from a public relations standpoint as a byproduct of the downtime, it’s the Cubs, who have yet to strike a deal with Comcast to broadcast games on the Cubs’ Marquee Sports Network. As it looks like fans won’t have the option to see the Cubs in person either, the extra time to negotiate will hopefully allow these two conglomerates to strike a deal.
And if they do, fans can expect to watch David Ross manage the Cubs through a hard-to-call division. The Rockies have one of baseball’s best lineups, led by perennial MVP candidate Nolan Arenado, but how much of an advantage would they lost without half a season playing in Denver’s thin air? The Diamondbacks have one of this division’s best pitching staffs and had several breakout players on offense last year, but how well does that translate to 2020? The Giants have yet to recover from the 2016 NLDS loss the Cubs handled them, and they’re likely the cellar dwellers here.
The Athletics are definitely a team that could cause the Cubs fits. Matt Chapman (third base) and Marcus Semien (shortstop) were one of the best halves of any infield in the league last year, while emerging stars such as first baseman Matt Olson and outfielder Ramon Laureano fill a balanced lineup. Led by a stout bullpen and ace Sean Manaea, the pitching staff has plenty to offer as well.
A strong balance between position players and the pitching staff is something the Cubs also offer. But as the Northsiders failed to make the playoffs last year, their biggest offseason splash was Jharel Cotton, a once-promising starter who hasn’t pitched since 2018. Ironically enough, he made his way to Chicago via Oakland.
The Athletics are constantly an up-and-coming team with their low payroll, but with their terrific core of young talent and the Cubs’ lack of postseason additions, Oakland probably likes their chances in this division. Sure, Ross will be exciting as manager, and young guns like Nico Hoerner will continue to develop, but this is not your older sibling’s Cubs team.
West Division: Cincinnati Reds, Cleveland Indians, Los Angeles Angels, Los Angeles Dodgers
Like the Cubs, the Southsiders find themselves as an odd man out in their division that features a pair of interstate, interleague rivalries. Not only that, but the three most active teams in baseball all reside here with the White Sox, Reds and Dodgers.
The Dodgers were the team of the winter when they traded Alex Verdugo and prospects to Boston for Mookie Betts, one of the league’s top three talents, and former ace David Price. They already had perhaps the best balance of talent in baseball, and now they find themselves co-favorites in Vegas, alongside the New York Yankees.
There wasn’t a shortage of money spent in Cincinatti, where the lineup was boosted by the additions of Nick Castellanos and Mike Moustakas, dependable southpaw Wade Miley added rotational depth and Pedro Strop bolstered the bullpen. They aren’t favorites like the Dodgers, but the Reds will certainly be in the playoff hunt.
The Angels have the best player in baseball in Mike Trout and hitting and pitching phenom Shohei Ohtani will be back on the bump after serving as just a designated hitter during Tommy John surgery recovery. And White Sox fans already know how dangerous The Tribe is.
As deep as this division is, the White Sox would have to be firmly in the hunt, at least for a wild card spot behind the divisional favorite Dodgers. Catcher Yasmani Grandal was one of the biggest offseason pickups in the league, while outfielder Nomar Mazara will be an awesome platoon option in right field. Dallas Keuchel and Gio Gonzalez figure to bring experience and depth to a young pitching staff that’s led by Cy Young contender Lucas Giolito.
With perhaps baseball’s best and most exciting crop of young talent, save for maybe the Toronto Blue Jays, the White Sox have an excess of potential that was shown last year by Yoan Moncada, Eloy Jimenez and American League batting champion Tim Anderson. Centerfielder of the future Luis Robert signed a five-year deal before he was even brought to the majors, and second baseman Nick Madrigal has a glove that scouts ooze over.
With the way things are looking, both of Chicago’s teams have realistic playoff expectations, although both as likely wild card teams in this scenario. For over a century, the dream of seeing an all-Chicago World Series has yet to become reality. This fall, we could finally see the two rivals link up in the postseason.
Unfortunately in this proposal, the two could meet, but not in the World Series. Since they would both play in the same league, a playoff encounter would come prior to the grand stage of the Fall Classic.
But I’m sure many fans would take a postseason meeting in any format, or any baseball at all in 2020.