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Analysis

Yankees: Breaking Down Potential Division Rivals

What would MLB’s proposed idea in forming divisions based on the Grapefruit and Cactus league look like for the Yankees and who’d be in their division?

As we’ve been waiting patiently for Yankees’ baseball (and all of baseball, for that matter), to possibly return, there’s been quite a few ideas pop up on how we may see baseball in 2020. Some of these ideas sound a bit outlandish, to say the least, and have received skepticism from the baseball world. I mean, setting up an entire league in Arizona doesn’t even sound remotely realistic, right?

You could say the same for the plan proposed to break up the American and National Leagues, and rather just play out the season in the Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues in Florida and Arizona. Just last night, CBS Sports reported another idea that MLB was considering a three-state plan, utilizing the facilities in not just Arizona or Florida, but Texas, too.

Alas, Commissioner Rob Manfred did say, according to a report from Jeff Passan, that “I fully anticipate baseball to return this season.” So, hypothetically, if MLB did decide to break up the AL and NL and put teams within their own divisions in their respective spring training leagues, what would that look like for the Yankees?

Who Would be in the Yankees Division?

Well, to put it bluntly, the Yankees would be in a division with the Philadelphia Phillies, Pittsburgh Pirates, Toronto Blue Jays, and Detroit Tigers, which would be called the “Grapefruit League North.” Once again, this is all hypothetical, but what is there to know about each of the Bombers’ potential division opponents? Let’s break it down.

Detroit Tigers

For organization purposes, we’ll break down each of the potential division rivals, starting from least threatening and working our way to most dangerous. For Detroit, despite the name, the Tigers are a lot more like Cubs, and not the ones from Chicago.

Jokes aside, the Tigers are bad. Really bad. No, like really, really bad. Headlined by a 37-year-old Miguel Cabrera who’s well over the hump, there isn’t a single a player to be wary of on Detroit’s roster. The Tigers were last in baseball in 2019 in runs scored (582), hit a combined .240, hit only 149 home runs, and pitched to a 5.24 ERA. Yeah, they’re that bad.

Other than Cabrera, the only hitter you can make somewhat of a case for to be aware of is Brandon Dixon, who led the team with 15 home runs in 391 at-bats. That being said, his .248 batting average and .290 on-base percentage aren’t the most daunting.

On the pitching side of things, Matthew Boyd had a semi-solid year as a breakout player. The lefty pitched to a 4.52 ERA in 32 starts (185.1 innings), which may not sound too impressive, but Boyd also struck out 238, which should speak to how good his stuff can be if he puts it all together.

All in all, here, there should be no concern regarding the Tigers. The Yankees — and the rest of the division, for that matter — should have no problem taking care of business against Detroit.

Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pirates had a few solid seasons from 2013-2015, but have regressed a decent amount since then. Although they had a lackluster offensive season in 2019 (758 runs), Pittsburgh has a few pieces that can make an impact on the diamond.

That starts with Josh Bell. The first baseman had a breakout season in 2019, hitting .277 with 37 home runs and 116 RBI with a .936 OPS. Bryan Reynolds and Kevin Newman also had strong rookie campaigns, too. Reynolds hit .314 with a .377 OBP with 16 home runs and 68 RBI in 491 at-bats. Meanwhile, Newman hit .308 with a .353 OBP with 12 homers in 493 at-bats. Colin Moran (13 home runs, 80 RBI) and Adam Frazier (.278 BA, 10 home runs, 50 RBI) are also sneakily solid hitters.

Albeit, they did take lose a big offensive piece in trading Starling Marte to Arizona, but they can still hit a little bit, with or without Marte.

No one’s saying the Pirates are a team that might take off soon, but they can steal a few wins here and there if the Yankees aren’t careful.

Toronto Blue Jays

The Jays are the one team the Yankees have some familiarity with, as they also play in the AL East (as I’m sure you all know). The Jays have always been a thorn in the Yankees’ side as a tough competitor, and with the addition of Hyun-Jin Ryu and sophomore seasons for Bo Bichette, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., and Cavan Biggio, this team can strike and score quickly.

Also for the Jays, their lineup includes Randal Grichuk and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. Grichuk was a nightmare for the Yankees last season, blasting eight of his 31 home runs against them. As for Gurriel, he’s a young player who’s showing signs of breaking out completely at any moment. The 26-year-old hit .277 with 20 home runs in 314 at-bats.

There’s no doubt that the Yankees are by far the better team here, as you can make that case for any team that would be pinned against the Yanks in the Grapefruit League North, but the Blue Jays are a young, feisty team who can rack up wins in a hurry.

Philadelphia Phillies

Who doesn’t love irony?

After the 2017 season, the Yankees parted ways with beloved longtime manager Joe Girardi. Fast forward to the 2019-2020 offseason and the Phillies bring Girardi in to help set their talented group of guys on the right path. Now it’s a possibility that their biggest competition is 2020 would be none other than the team that parted ways with Girardi almost three years prior. How poetic.

The Phillies have had talent, as we all know, but have failed to put it together the past few years under former manager Gabe Kapler. In 2018, the Phils finished 80-82, then brought in Bryce Harper, and finished 81-81 in 2019. Despite not showing any results, this team has a boatload of talent.

Between Harper, J.T. Realmuto, Aaron Nola, and Rhys Hoskins, Philadelphia already was loaded on talent before entering the offseason. Add the best manager on the market in Girardi, Zack Wheeler, and, oh yeah, former Yankees fan-favorite Didi Gregorius and the Phils have a really, really solid team on their hands.

The Yankees should beat them if MLB does, in fact, follow through on this plan, but they’re far more dangerous than many give Philadelphia credit for. The Phillies, by far, would be the most threatening team to the Yankees in Grapefruit League North.

Surely, all of this is speculation, and no one knows what exactly is going to happen with baseball. But it’s fun to toy around with what may or may not materialize. If the Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues do end up materializing into actual divisions in 2020, it’s going to be really interesting to see how each division interacts with their new rivals.

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