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MLB Opening Options Include 3 Regional Divisions

NEW YORK — Major League Baseball is exploring various options that could allow the season to start if the medical situation allows, including a plan in which the 30 teams might be split into three regional divisions.

Among the formats under consideration is one in which teams could be restricted to playing within their region, two people familiar with the discussions said Tuesday. The people spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because no public statements were authorized.

That plan, if used, would break up the traditional alignments of the American and National Leagues. It also would cut travel during the coronavirus pandemic.

MLB also has looked at configurations for all-Arizona, Arizona-and-Florida and Arizona-plus-Texas-plus-Florida locations, the people said. The latest plan was first reported by USA Today.

Another variation would have teams start in Arizona, Texas and Florida, playing in empty ballparks, and then if the health situation allows, switch later to their regular-season sites. If conditions improve later in the year, they possibly could start playing before fans with only a percentage of seats sold.

Opening day had been scheduled for March 26, but the new coronavirus caused MLB to delay the start to mid-May  at the earliest.

Any plan would be subject to medical approval plus consent of federal, state and local authorities. Any schedule with games at neutral sites or without fans would require an agreement between MLB and the players' association.

Baseball officials have told the union of their thinking but have not made any formal proposals.

Baseball also is considering expanding the playoffs beyond the current 10-team format. Officials have discussed extending the playoffs into November or possibly even December, using domed ballparks and warm-weather cities.

Any plan would be contingent on baseball gaining access to test about 3,000 people on a regular basis: about 1,200 players plus staff and broadcast personnel. Players most likely would need three to four weeks of workouts before opening day.

Baseball officials have been encouraged by statements about the prospect of starting the season from President Donald Trump, Govs. Greg Abbott (Texas), Andrew Cuomo (New York) and Tom Wolf (Pennsylvania) and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, one of the people said.

In a sign of baseball's significance, Cuomo appointed Yankees president Randy Levine and Mets chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon to his New York Forward re-opening advisory board on Tuesday.

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