As you’ve probably seen, in late October word broke that Major League Baseball had proposed a plan that would eliminate 42 current Minor League teams. The plan would basically cut out all non-complex level rookie leagues. And the plan would include massive re-alignment of the current leagues to shorten up road trips and travel. Not all of the teams were rookie-level teams, though – just a majority of them. Within the Cincinnati Reds farm system two of the full-season affiliates, the Daytona Tortugas and the Chattanooga Lookouts, were among the 42 teams on the chopping block.
This week things got rather contentious. Rob Manfred and Major League Baseball took offense that the negotiations went public – as if for some reason Minor League Baseball owners would not try to do what they needed to do in order to save their livelihoods. Early Friday evening Minor League Baseball released a statement that outlined the issues brought up by Major League Baseball and addressed each one – calling some outright lies, and offering solutions to others.
That statement did not sit well with Rob Manfred, who handles criticism worse than I do. Manfred and Major League Baseball released a follow up statement last night, and it was basically how you would expect a child to respond when they have the basketball and they don’t get to be the team captain.
If the National Association [of Minor League Clubs] has an interest in an agreement with Major League Baseball, it must address the very significant issues with the current system at the bargaining table. Otherwise, MLB clubs will be free to affiliate with any minor league team or potential team in the United States, including independent league teams and cities which are not permitted to compete for an affiliate under the current agreement.
They will take their ball and go home. That’s basically what Major League Baseball is saying. And realistically, they have all of the power. If they wanted to, they could literally just run the entire farm system out of the spring training complexes. Just like they do it during the spring when they play two games at a time at every complex – they can do the same exact thing all year. In Florida, once the complex league begins in late-June, the Gulf Coast Rookie League teams play their games in the morning on the same field that the Florida State League teams play their games on in the evenings. That can happen. And realistically, it’s an option to happen moving forward.
That’s why they are taking such a hard-lined stance here. They know that they realistically have all of the power. The only power that Minor League Baseball has is public pressure and the hope that through legal means that they can get Congress to put pressure on Major League Baseball through looking into their anti-trust exemption. At this point, though, with how well established Major League Baseball is, and the sheer amount of money that they have – taking away their anti-trust exemption at this point would take decades, if not more, to have any sort of real effect.
The Florence Freedom aren’t a threat to the Cincinnati Reds. And they likely never will be. They have an operating budget that’s lower than the price of signing one first round draft pick. They aren’t going to be able to put together a team that’s going to have the kind of players that’s going to put pressure on a Major League team. And neither is any other team around the country. Major League Baseball has revenues over $10,000,000,000 a year. This isn’t like 1940 when the monies in baseball were almost all made on ticket sales. The Dodgers television contract pay them hundreds of millions of dollars per year. Competing against that is about as much of a non-starter as it can be if you are starting from scratch.
Major League Baseball simply doesn’t care about the game of baseball. They care about how much profit they can make. And that’s not to say that the Minor League Baseball owners as a whole are perfect here. Major League Baseball isn’t wrong on all of their assertions, though it’s going to take a whole lot to convince me that they actually care about those assertions rather than simply using them to try and cut teams and save money – because if they actually cared about them they’d have been brought up long before six months ago.
Minor League Baseball is publicly stating that they are willing to work with Major League Baseball on pretty much every single point that Major League Baseball claims are reasons to cut 42 teams. In response, Major League Baseball instead has thrown a fit in public. And the reason it seems that they are doing so is because they don’t actually care to address the problems they speak of, but rather they simply want to cut teams out of the system because it means less players and staff to pay.
It was merely a handful of months ago that Congress pushed through the Omnibus Spending Bill, some 1400 pages of a bill that was introduced and finalized with less than 24 hours before voting on it. Tucked into that bill was a trimmed down version of the “Save America’s Pastime” Bill, which essentially was to set the wage standards for minor leaguers so that they didn’t qualify to be paid more than minimum wage and only had to be paid for 40-hours a week regardless of how many hours that they actually worked. The bill that died before it even reached the floor on it’s own was lobbied for by both Major League and Minor League Baseball. Reportedly there were millions of dollars spent lobbying for that. Since it couldn’t make it on it’s own, it was tucked away into a 1400 page bill that made it not worth fighting over, if you could even get to that page in the bill before you had to vote on it, and passed without issue.
And that’s what this is actually all about. Money. It was less than two years ago that Major League Baseball literally spent millions of dollars to make it so they didn’t have to pay Minor League Baseball players anything beyond minimum wage for 40 hours per week. But that blew up in their face as it went public and the public outcry was basically “wait, what’s happening here? This is ridiculous!” and they’ve been feeling the pressure, along with ongoing lawsuits over minor league pay, to increase the amount of money they are paying their employees.
That public pressure is seemingly going to make them pay their players more. And as a result they are likely looking to just cut jobs and pay those who remain better. Eliminating 85 jobs and increasing the pay for the rest of the 150 players doesn’t make much of a difference on their books and they can say that they are doing the right thing by paying them better now – all while hiding behind the fact that they aren’t spending much more money, it any more money at all than they were prior.
For the price of a solid middle reliever, Major League Baseball teams could pay every single player in their farm system $25,000 a year. Even for the guys in Triple-A who haven’t yet reached free agency, that is nearly a 300% raise. For the guys at levels lower than that, it’s an even bigger one. The odds that they go that far are next to zero. But that’s what we’re actually talking about here. An increase in spending by teams worth over a billion dollars, of less than $5M a year. The reality is that this is probably over something closer to an increase in spending of maybe $1.5-2M a year because teams probably aren’t going to start paying everyone $25,000 a season.
It’s chump change. It’s the equivalent of a $40,000 a year salary and an increase in spending being $156 for the year. You wouldn’t even feel it. But that’s essentially what this whole thing is over. Pocket change. But they are going to absolute war over it, and in the process threatening the long term health and growth of the game.