If you’ve found your way here, you are probably aware of the plan that Major League Baseball has where they are proposing the elimination of 42 minor league teams (adding two independent league teams) and setting up a new minor league set up that only includes complex level rookie ball, and then Low-A, Advanced-A, Double-A, and Triple-A teams. Basically, they want to eliminate any and all short-season leagues that aren’t in place at the spring training facility.
There has been plenty of push back on that idea. Obviously the minor league team owners aren’t happy about it. But neither are some members of Congress. Or fans of those teams, or just minor league baseball, or even baseball fans in general. Rob Manfred and Major League Baseball have re-iterated once again the reasons they want you to believe are behind their proposed plan.
Manfred said there were four reasons to cut 42 MiLB teams.
1. Inadequate facilities
2. 77 franchises have moved since 1990, making for untenable travel
3. Poor pay for minor leaguers
4. Drafting and signing players who don't have a realistic opportunity to make it to the bigs.
— Laura Albanese (@AlbaneseLaura) November 21, 2019
Those were the things that Rob Manfred laid out. There are more, smaller things, but let’s tackle all of these things.
Inadequate Minor League Facilities
Yes, this is an actual concern. There are stadiums and facilities out there that are inadequate. Can’t deny this. Won’t deny this. I’ve seen some of them. I’ve heard about them, too. But this is an easy fix in almost every case, too. The contract agreement between Minor League Baseball and Major League Baseball is up after 2020. Write it into the new deal what you specifically want with regards to a facility. And give the teams, two years to meet those requirements.
But, let’s also be sure to note that there are more than a few teams on the chopping block of the 42 teams that have perfectly fine facilities. Within the Reds organization three of the four teams that were listed on the “cut list” are playing in stadiums less than 20 years old. The Billings Mustangs play in Dehler Park, which was opened in 2008. The Greeneville Reds play in Pioneer Park, which was built in 2004. The Chattanooga Lookouts play at AT&T Field. It was built in 2000.
I’m certain there are other teams on the block that are also newer parks, but those are three examples that I’m familiar with. That’s not to say that maybe there isn’t an upgrade or two that could be useful for them – but it’s not like they are playing at the equivalent of a high school baseball stadium.
There are, however, some teams that need brand new facilities. This is particularly the case at some of places in rookie ball that they are attempting to get rid of. The field dimensions, for example, are hilariously stupid in some of the Pioneer League stadiums. But because the ballparks are so old, they were grandfathered in and don’t need to stay up to date with the current requirements. Multiple parks are sub-300 feet down the line. And that’s not to mention the clubhouse areas in some of these ballparks which, well, certainly feel like they haven’t been updated much since 1968. Again, though – much of this can be approached without simply cutting the teams out before asking them to fix it.
Franchises moving and travel issues
The 2020 season will be my 15th season of covering minor league baseball. In that time, here are all of the cities that have been Reds affiliates at each level:
- Louisville Bats
- Chattanooga Lookouts (2000-2008, 2019)
- Carolina Mudcats (Zebulon, NC)
- Pensacola Blue Wahoos
- Sarastoa Reds (2005-2009)
- Lynchburg Hillcats (2010)
- Bakersfield Blaze (2011-2014)
- Daytona Tortugas (2015-2019)
- Dayton Dragons
- Billings Mustangs
- Greeneville Reds
- GCL Reds (1999-2009)
- AZL Reds (2010-2019)
For the Reds, the only real movement has been in Advanced-A and Double-A. Triple-A, Low-A, and Rookie Ball has all stayed the same with the exception of them moving their complex from Florida to Arizona, and adding the team in Greeneville.
That isn’t the case for all of the organizations, though. But changing affiliations doesn’t make it untenable for travel. Some leagues have more travel than others. The issue that they are trying to convey is that they want the travel to be easier on the players – don’t spend 8 hours on a bus trip (or more).
There are a few points to bring up here. The first is that one of the leagues they are trying to get rid of, the Appalachian League, teams rarely even stay over night while on the road. The reason is simple: most teams are within a two hour drive of each other, and most aren’t even that far. Take Greeneville for example – when talking with people who are in from out of town, one thing that if often brought up is where you are staying. More than a few people I’ve talked with while in Greeneville are staying in Johnson City, then driving to Greeneville to work the game. Johnson City has a team of their own. It’s about a 40 minute drive to Greeneville.
That isn’t the case in the Pioneer League – another league on the chopping block. Those bus rides are long. The teams are spread out quite a bit in that league. There are a few options here. First would be to fly these guys instead of bus them. The travel would certainly be shorter. More expensive, too.
The other option could be better scheduling. The time spent getting from town to town would be the same. But if you had series that lasted for six games instead of three or four, the overall travel would be less.
In full season baseball you can re-organize some leagues to make travel easier for the teams that uses buses. Alter the schedules so the trips are shorter. Prioritize road trips that include the longest trip to also include a stop somewhere in the middle to cut that trip down.
Poor Pay for Minor Leaguers
Excuse me while I laugh uncontrollably for the next eight hours before returning to type some more.
Ok, I’m back, and have abs of steel now. It turns out that laughing is a good workout. Major League Baseball teams pay the players. The only thing stopping the players from being paid poorly is the unwillingness of Major League Baseball to pay them better. The fact that they brought this up is actually incredible. Not only because, well, they decide what to pay them, but the fact that they as a group, spent millions of dollars lobbying Congress to change the laws on the books so that they wouldn’t be forced to pay minor leaguers more than minimum wage and for no more than 40 hours per week regardless of how long they actually worked.
Major League Baseball and their owners have done as much as humanly possible to limit how much they pay minor leaguers (and Major Leaguers, but that’s a different story for a different day). They’ve limited the bonus pools in the draft. They’ve limited the bonus pools internationally. And as already discussed, they literally got laws written to limit how much they legally have to pay guys in the minor leagues.
Drafting and Signing Players who don’t have a realistic chance to reach the Majors
This goes back to the initial stories a month ago, where the proposal included cutting the draft from 40 rounds to 20 rounds. It wasn’t that long ago that the draft had 50 rounds. That move was made in 2012 – prior to that, there were 50 rounds.
The large majority of Major Leaguers that were draft eligible (non-international free agents) were selected in the first few rounds of the draft. That’s not to say those who aren’t selected in the first three or four rounds have no chance – they do. But the odds do tell us that things are stacked against an individual player to reach the Majors if they aren’t taken early.
The rules have changed over the years. With the draft bonus pool now existing, the days are pretty much over of signing Amir Garrett and Sal Romano in rounds 22 and 23 and spending $1.5M to sign the two of them. I’m not going to sit here and cite them as examples of guys who would no longer be drafted if things were limited to 20 rounds because it’s a disingenuous argument. Those guys would be drafted today, and paid equally (accounting for inflation) – it would just be that the new rules means they’d be taken in rounds 2-3-4-5 instead.
But there are guys who were, for legitimate reasons, selected later in the draft who have gone on to be big leaguers. Heck, some guys go undrafted and reach the Majors (we’re looking at you, Ryan Hanigan).
Of course, this also misses the point that just because the chances aren’t great that a guy won’t become a Major Leaguer doesn’t mean they shouldn’t exist in professional baseball. The argument that’s been made many places is that these guys exist so the 2-3 guys on a given team that will be big leaguers can actually practice in games. That’s a garbage argument. Yes, you need at least 18 guys to play a game, but there are plenty of things those guys can bring to the table beyond just “existing so the 1st rounder can get game action”.
Then we can toss into the mix the whole idea that teams are scouting 13 and 14-year-old kids right now with the idea of signing them in 2022…. talk about signing guys with little chance of making the Majors. That’s a little different, because not all of those kids are going to be signed. But the fact remains that they are certainly looking at kids who would be in the 7th grade right now with the hopes of finding someone to sign in a few years, and well, think about the odds of that.
This is all just Major League Baseball not wanting to say the quiet part out loud. They do not want to pay the players. But they are feeling too much public pressure to actually start paying minor league players a living wage. So rather than just pay everyone an increased wage, they are trying to find excuses and reasons that enough people will buy into in order to get away with just cutting jobs and increasing overall pay by 10-15%, but using that to pay 175 players instead of 275 players. It gives the illusion that they actually cared about paying them more money, and taking care of these other things.
But if they actually cared about those other things they would have been addressed long ago. And some of the issues wouldn’t be completely debunked for half of the teams on the chopping block with eight seconds of research.
If Major League Baseball wanted to fix ALL of this, they could do it rather easily. Remember when teams were allowed to spend whatever they wanted to on international players, but if they went over a certain amount they had to pay penalties to Major League Baseball? That lasted for five or six years. Then the rules changed and they made it so you couldn’t spend beyond your allotted pool amount. In the time that was allowed, teams paid over $200,000,000 in penalties to the MLB Central Fund. That is money that teams spent to sign players, that players absolutely did not get.
That money could be used to help increase the pay for the players. That money could be used to improve travel for Major League Baseball employees. It won’t be, of course, but it could be.