This afternoon there was some incredible breaking news from both David Waldstein of The New York Times and JJ Cooper of Baseball America. At The New York Times, Waldstein first noted that Major League Baseball is pushing for an overhaul of the Minor Leagues. Shortly after that, Cooper had a far more expansive and more detailed article on it.
There is a whole lot to unpack here. And both articles are ones that you should read as they both have information within that is key to what could happen, and what’s being proposed. The big part of the story is this: Major League Baseball has proposed eliminating 42 teams from Minor League Baseball after the 2020 season.
Currently there are 160 teams in the minors that aren’t at the complex level. The plan would be to cut that down to 120 teams. At this time this is just a proposal being offered to Minor League Baseball. The current contract between the two organizations ends after the 2020 season.
The reduction of teams and what it means
The heart of the story is the reduction in teams. And it seems that nearly all of those teams would come from the short-season levels. The Reds full-season teams, for the most part, would seem safe. With one exception: Daytona. One of the stated reasons for reduction is that facilities that aren’t up to standard for Major League Baseball. The Tortugas play in a ballpark in Daytona that has been around for over 100 years. The clubhouses aren’t exactly up to date. That’s not to say that they can’t be updated, but among the full-season teams and not just the Reds affiliates, they are not anywhere near the top. Dayton and Louisville stand out for their facilities. Chattanooga falls more towards the middle of things overall.
The rookie-level teams are where things are concerning. Billings and Greeneville are the teams that would be directly in the cross hairs. From the article by David Waldstein at The New York Times:
For some minor league teams, the proposal could mean losing their affiliation with M.L.B. clubs. The most vulnerable teams are those in the Appalachian League, Northwest League and New York-Penn League. Other short-season teams, like the Brooklyn Cyclones, the Mets’ short-season team in the New York-Penn League, could be converted to full-season teams, perhaps even in higher levels like Class AA.
The original article also mentioned the Frontier League in that group, but was edited out – it is not currently an affiliated league. Baseball America, however, did note that the Pioneer League could be in the line of fire, so-to-speak.
On the surface, the first thing that comes to mind is that fewer teams means fewer jobs for players. For the Cincinnati Reds, in theory, they would be losing two teams of affiliated players. That’s 70 active roster spots. In reality, thanks to injured list spots, it’s more than that. But for teams like the Yankees, who have more teams overall, as noted in the Baseball America article, it could cost them 135 player spots.
Let’s just call it 85 roster spots for each organization to make the math easy. That means 2,550 minor league player jobs would no longer exist in affiliated baseball. What that doesn’t include in there are the jobs of coaches/managers, too. Obviously there are a lot more player jobs than manager/coaching jobs – but there are 3-4 of those per team, too. And don’t forget the trainer and strength coach. So that’s another 160+ jobs in affiliated baseball that are gone.
The non-MLB paid jobs at risk
Beyond the jobs paid for by the Major League Baseball teams, there are a lot of jobs at risk here, too. The front offices of minor league teams vary in size. They’ve all got a general manager, who serves in a role that is very different from the one associated with a Major League team. The general manager is more like that of the manager of the organization in the non-baseball side of things. But there are also broadcaster jobs for each team, in some cases there are photographer jobs, videographer jobs. There are sales jobs at some places. Graphic designer jobs may exist at some places. All of the ushers for the games have jobs currently. Everyone that works at any of the food/drink/souvenir stands. The grounds crew.
It’s tough to estimate the number of jobs that are here because it is going to vary quite a bit from organization to organization. But even if it’s just 15 part-time jobs and 3 full-time jobs per organization, that’s another big chunk of jobs that are gone.
Major League Baseball’s plan, of course if it were to go through, is to keep these towns and teams alive. But they would need to convert to something other than affiliated baseball. Maybe you become an independent team. Or maybe you turn into a wood bat summer league team. And in theory, that’s all nice and fine – but it’s a theory built on no thought.
Minor League Baseball is selling the idea that you can come have a good time watching baseball’s future stars. And yes, some people are going to see more than your Hunter Greene’s or your Wander Franco’s. But are those same people going to show up if the league is filled with guys who aren’t ever going to be the caliber of those players? And the league is never going to have guys who were even drafted? It’s tough for me to buy into the franchises keeping afloat when the entire team roster is made up of players who weren’t drafted.
The talk is that Major League Baseball would use some of, or most of the teams in setting up a league(s) for undrafted players (in the proposal the draft is also cut in half, but we’ll have more on that later). But, as noted just above – people aren’t going to show up to see that. Just like they don’t show up to watch hardly any of those leagues that exist now. And some of those leagues have actual, real Major League prospects playing there who just happen to still be in college.
More to come
If you went ahead and read the two linked articles, you know that there’s a whole heck of a lot going on here. Because of all of the things going on, this is going to wind up being a multi-part series talking about various aspects of what’s going on. There’s simply too much for one article. Right now we’ve only really addressed the jobs aspect of it. I’d still like to address the draft aspect, the international signing aspect (and this in particular comes into play with the Reds in a rather big way in my opinion), the future of the game impact this has, and probably some other things that I’m forgetting about right this second.
In the end, this whole story feels like easily the biggest story that’s happened since I’ve started covering minor league baseball. I think it’s probably the biggest story in baseball right now.