Over the last week or so, it’s become increasingly clear that MLB is ready to ramp up their efforts for a comeback this season. There have been a number of reports that indicate MLB is as optimistic as ever that there will be a 2020 season and they are hoping right now to have that underway by July 4 at the latest, with a second spring training taking place in June. Obviously, given the situation in the country and around the world, nobody can really plan for anything with any sort of certainty.
Among the reports in that link above, Bob Nightengale reported that MLB is looking at a potential plan for a return that would allow teams to play in their home parks — without fans, at least at first — but to reduce travel they would only play within new geographically-based divisions. It should be mentioned that there have been reports since then that this may no longer be the preferred proposal, but things are moving quickly and changing constantly. Nothing should be thrown out the window.
With all of this in mind, I thought it would be useful to look at how this new ten-team division would affect a potential season for the Red Sox and where they would stand in said division. For reference, the other nine times would be: the Yankees, Mets, Nationals, Orioles, Phillies, Pirates, Blue Jays, Rays, and Marlins. Below I have separated the teams into the top, middle and bottom tiers based on the average win totals from the FanGraphs Depth Chart and PECOTA projections.
- Yankees (95.5 wins)
- Rays (89 wins)
- Nationals (87.5 wins)
If I were to split things up even more, the Yankees would be in a tier of their own and really only the Dodgers and maybe the Astros are in their tier in all of baseball. (Speaking of which, as an aside this proposal would put Houston and Los Angeles in the same division, which would be pretty fascinating.) All three of these teams would be projected to, at the very least, be in the mix for a postseason spot in a normal season. That would likely be the case here as well. The Yankees are arguably the best team in baseball. The Rays have a few more question marks, but also have more than enough depth to make up for any potential variance on their roster. The Nationals are the defending champs and still plenty talented even after the departure of Anthony Rendon. I don’t think there’s any question about the top three teams here, and really the order seems pretty clear to me as well.
4. Mets (86.5)
5. Red Sox (85.5)
6. Phillies (79)
The Red Sox sit in the middle tier, which I think makes sense even just looking at things from a broader perspective in terms of the league as a whole. They clearly got worse this offseason than they were at the beginning of the winter, even considering where they ended last season. That said, they were probably a mid-tier team then and now they’re just further down in that tier. The offense is still good enough to drag their win total into the 80s, but they need some surprises on the pitching side to push it up into the 88-92 range. I’d probably take the under on this 85.5 projection, but not by more than a couple wins. The other two teams in this tier are fascinating to me. I think the Mets could have snuck up on people in 2020, but the Noah Syndergaard injury hurts that a bit. The Phillies, meanwhile, need some things to go right but like the Red Sox they have the offense to keep them afloat at least.
7. Blue Jays (76)
8. Pirates (71)
9. Marlins (70)
10. Orioles (60.5)
This is where things get advantageous for the Red Sox and really for each of the top seven teams in this division. The Blue Jays at in this tier to me because not just because of the projections. For full disclosure I had the same tiers before looking at the projections, and the only difference in order was having the Phillies ahead of the Red Sox, and that was a coin flip. If anyone were to change tiers on this list, though I think I would pick the Blue Jays moving up. Toronto is probably still a year away, but there is enough young talent that they could surprise people, particularly in an uncertain year like any 2020 season would be. The rest of this tier, though, is where the Red Sox and everyone can pick up a ton of wins. There is an argument for these being the three worst teams in baseball, though the Tigers and Royals are in that discussion as well.
So, what does this mean for the Red Sox and a potential playoff berth? Well, that’s kind of hard to say because the report from Nightengale that mentioned this realignment didn’t explicitly mention how the postseason would be formatted. Obviously with fewer divisions they would need to change the way teams qualify for the playoffs. The simplest way would be just expanding by two teams and taking four teams from each of the three divisions, but that’s just total speculation on my part. Either way, this realignment would likely give some boost to the Red Sox, both because of the uncertainty of which they are a part in that middle tier as well as the worst bottom-tier out of any of the divisions.