Boston Red Sox catcher Christian Vazquez takes the field on March 5 in Fort Myers, Florida. A reported proposal by Major League Baseball would make Fort Myers the Red Sox home this season if games are able to be played during the coronavirus pandemic. Elise Amendola/Associated Press

The Red Sox better hope the latest creative proposal to get the Major League Baseball season underway doesn’t gain any traction.

That proposal, as outlined by USA Today’s Bob Nightengale on Friday, would call for temporary realignment based on spring training locations. Instead of having the American and National Leagues in 2020, MLB would have the Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues in Florida and Arizona with five-team divisions based on geography.

Those proposed changes would greatly impact the Red Sox’ chances in both their division and their league. But, first some caveats.

First, it’s important to note that the realignment plan, like all the other ideas that have been thrown out in recent weeks, is a long way away from actually happening and, in all likelihood, will never come to fruition. The divisions proposed by Nightengale are theoretical, and there’s the necessary warning that shuffling the deck so forcefully will produce different outcomes than expected.

Also, the odds given are from Bovada, which clearly takes into account things like strength of schedule, strength of division and all the other tenets of a normal baseball season that are assumed to be in place. In the realignment scenario, the odds would change drastically, but the assumption can be made that good teams would still be, well, good.

In an unprecedented season, unprecedented things will happen. But it’s clear that this specific proposal would be particularly disastrous to the Red Sox, who are already likely on the outside looking in when it comes to making the postseason.

Here’s why:

IN THE DIVISION

According to Nightengale, the proposed Grapefruit League South would consist of the five southernmost teams on Florida’s west coast: the Red Sox, Twins, Rays, Braves and Orioles. So the new grouping would keep three AL East holdovers (Boston, Tampa Bay and Baltimore) and swap out the Yankees and Blue Jays for the Twins and Braves.

Getting rid of the Yankees – the betting favorite to win the American League, according to Bovada – is a good start. But the Twins and Braves are both favorites to win their current divisions and, along with the Rays, would mean the Red Sox would have three projected playoff teams in their own division.

ESPN’s most recent Power Rankings had three GL South teams – the Rays (No. 4), Twins (No. 5) and Braves (No. 6) – in its top six, with the Red Sox at No. 19. The GL South would have three of the top 10 favorites to win the World Series – the Braves (4th, +1400), Twins (5th, +1600) and Rays (T8, +2200) – and would be the second most top-heavy division in all of baseball in that regard. The GL East, with the Astros, Nationals, Cardinals and Nationals, would have four top 10 teams.

Those divisions would be much more stacked than the others. In the GL North, the Yankees (2nd, +350) would be the only team with top 10 projected odds and would find their best competition in the Phillies (11th, +2400). In the Cactus League West, the Dodgers (the World Series favorite at +325) would be joined by four middling teams that rank no higher than 12th in World Series odds. The CL Northeast would be led by the Athletics (T8, +2200) and Cubs (T12, +2500) and has no other team in the top 19. The CL Northwest, the weakest division of all, would have three non-contenders (the Brewers, Padres and Rangers) likely vying for a division title.

In the AL East, the Red Sox (18th, +3300) currently project as the third best team behind New York and Tampa Bay. In the GL South, they’d be the clear fourth. To make matters worse, in a shortened schedule in which travel will be limited, it’s reasonable to think a huge amount of games would be played against divisional opponents.

That would be a tall task for the Sox. At least they’d get to beat up on the Orioles in both scenarios.

IN THE LEAGUE

If you think the discrepancies between some divisions are bad, the breakdown of the two leagues will floor you.

The Grapefruit League, with top contenders like the Yankees, Astros, Twins, Braves and Nationals, would have nine of the top 11 World Series favorites, including six of the top seven. The 9:2 ratio between leagues comes in stark contrast to the parity between the traditional leagues, as the NL has six of the top 11 and the AL has five.

ESPN’s Power Rankings put six of the top seven teams in the GL, with the Dodgers (at No. 1) serving as the only exception. ESPN is a little more bullish on three CL teams (the Athletics, Indians and Cubs) to make it a 6:4 split in the top 10, but does have eight of its top 12 teams on the Florida side.

Currently, the Red Sox are given the fifth best odds to win the AL pennant (+1600). In the realignment scenario, the four teams with better odds (the Yankees, Astros, Twins and Rays) would remain in Boston’s league and be joined by five of the six top contenders in the NL (the Braves, Nationals, Cardinals, Phillies and Mets).

ESPN paints a fairer picture, with the 19th-ranked Red Sox having eight league teams above them and six league teams below them in both scenarios. But the top-heavy nature of the GL (8 of the top 12) would likely prove more difficult to navigate than the AL (six of the top 12).

The GL would have seven of the 10 postseason teams from 2019, including both pennant winners and all four teams that appeared in the LCS. It would also have seven teams who finished among the top 10 regular season records in 2019 along with the bottom three (Miami, Baltimore and Detroit).

The average ranking of team’s on ESPN’s list are pretty equal, with the average NL team (15.1) ranking slightly higher than the average AL team (15.9). But the average GL team (14.6) is much higher than the average CL team (16.4).

Assuming the playoff format stays the same, if the favorites (the Yankees, Braves and Astros) win their GL divisions, then the Rays, Twins, Nationals, Mets and Cardinals would compete for two wild-card spots. It’s hard envisioning the Red Sox beating out four of those five teams to get into the mix.

THE BOTTOM LINE

No matter what the season looks like, getting into the postseason is going to be a tall task for a Red Sox club that has undergone so much significant change since the end of last season. They’ll try to win after saying goodbye to Mookie Betts, David Price, Rick Porcello and Brock Holt and will do so without Chris Sale, who will miss the entire year after undergoing Tommy John surgery.

In the AL, it’s clear the Yankees, Rays, Twins and Astros are better than the Red Sox. But the middle of the pack – the group that includes the Athletics, Indians, Angels and White Sox – is a bit murky, leaving the second wild-card spot up for grabs.
If the realignment plan went through, the Red Sox would have virtually no shot. They can sleep easy knowing it’s just a pipe dream – for now.

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