Well, it’s been a big story for the last half-year or so, with Major League Baseball’s plan of attempting to eliminate 40 teams from the Minor League Baseball chain under the guise of “player safety and inadequate facilities”. Before the world truly began to burn, this was one of the bigger stories in all of baseball as the two sides fought, often out in public, over the idea of eliminating teams from the minors.
But when COVID-19 arrived stateside and we began to see it spread, things began shutting down and sports were among the first things to push the “pause” button on their businesses. When that happened, it also put a halt on talks between Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball on their negotiations for a new Professional Baseball Agreement – which is what allows the two sides to operate together as a “provider of team personnel” and “providers of facilities”.
JJ Cooper of Baseball America reported just before noon today that the Minor League Baseball side will concede to the reduction of teams down to 120 when the two sides have a conference call on Wednesday to continue their negotiations.
Now, MiLB and MLB are expected to discuss the parameters of a system where the two sides could work together to ensure that most of the cities that currently have affiliated baseball will have ties to MLB clubs, even if those cities’ teams will not be fielding draftees and signees of the MLB club. It wouldn’t be MLB’s initial proposal, but a system that has been adjusted to give those cities a better chance of having a viable long-term baseball operation.
There are many details for such a system that would need to be worked out, as far as what kind of financial and other support such teams would get from MLB and affiliated MiLB teams. But the general idea would be to ensure such cities continue to have reasonably high quality baseball in an economic system that would have staying power.
Update: 4:15pm ET on 4/21
Minor League Baseball has released the following statement:
Recent articles on the negotiations between MiLB and MLB are largely inaccurate. There have been no agreements on contraction or other issues. MiLB looks forward to continuing the good faith negotiations with MLB on Wednesday as we work toward an agreement that best ensures the future of professional baseball throughout the United States and Canada.
Below continues the originally published article
There is a lot of important information within the article, so be sure that you go read the piece in it’s entirety, but this point above is the biggest one for me from the article. Perhaps it’s just my naivety at play, but I just continue to struggle to see how there’s going to be financial viability in many of these small towns that are going to lose their MLB affiliations. It’s one thing to be able to get people to come out and see 1st round picks, and show up to get a Didi Gregorius bobblehead. It’s another thing to try and get them to come out to see guys that used to be 25th rounders and undrafted players and get your bobblehead of a guy who was pretty good at Country Crock College in three or four years.
Yes, there are some independent leagues that make things work. The players are paid less (and in some cases, not at all as they prey on the “you might get seen and signed” dream), which is a big issue, and the support system is really lacking by comparison to affiliated baseball. The competition level, though, may be a bit higher than your typical rookie-level league – but the array of talent is wide ranging, too. There are guys that reach the Major Leagues every year who were at one point in independent league baseball. Those guys are few and far between, but they exist. There’s talent in those leagues.
But how many of those guys wind up sticking around when there are fewer spots to be had in the affiliated ranks, and where you’re probably making less money than you would even in affiliated ball where guys were already struggling? How do teams stay afloat – some of whom were struggling to break even in years that features a few extra rain outs a year – when they now have to pay for the players and coaches and trainers?
Now, there’s certainly something to be said about having your business rely on someone else basically subsidizing a part of your operations. That hardly applies only to Major League Baseball, of course, but it does apply.
There are so many unanswered questions right now that I’m still left scratching my head here as to how most of these teams won’t simply vanish in the next few years. But perhaps the folks with Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball are far smarter than I am when it comes to this stuff. That’s certainly possible.
When it comes to the Cincinnati Reds specifically, they will see their current farm system hit the hardest if the initial list of teams on the proverbial chopping block remains. There has been some talk that there has been some change on that list that we first got to see, but we haven’t seen what those changes are. On the initial list the rookie level Greeneville Reds, rookie level Billings Mustangs, Advanced-A Daytona Tortugas, and Double-A Chattanooga Lookouts were among the 42 teams that were listed.
It’s very unlikely that if changes were made that they would involve the Greeneville Reds or the Billings Mustangs. Both are in rookie leagues that are being eliminated. And the Appalachian League where Greeneville plays was always seen as the easiest league to get rid of since almost all of the teams in the league are owned by their Major League team. For Billings, between the league being chopped and their location being nowhere near any other viable league, it just seems incredibly unlikely that despite having good facilities that they would be “saved” in the new plan.
The “new” plan would be to have no rookie level league outside of the leagues operated at the spring training complexes in Florida (Gulf Coast League) and Arizona (Arizona Rookie League). Each organization would still have a Low-A, Advanced-A, Double-A, and Triple-A franchise. What we likely will see, though, is a restructuring of the leagues to make travel easier (re: shorter), which will involve some current teams changing the level of affiliation that they are currently in to better fit the geographical location of leagues.
Very few teams in the minors and majors have player development contracts beyond the current season. There are a few that have protections – such as the Dayton Dragons. The Cincinnati Reds have to grant their approval to basically exist because of their proximity to Cincinnati, and it simply isn’t good business sense to allow another organization to have Dayton as an affiliate, so expect the Dragons to remain a Reds affiliate no matter how things play out. Whether they remain a Low-A team, or get moved to another league in restructuring is another story, though. The Louisville Bats and Cincinnati Reds are only affiliated through the end of 2020. That’s not to say they won’t extend that relationship, but it’s not currently beyond this year.
What we do know is that in 2021, if we get baseball of course, the Cincinnati Reds are going to have a team in Goodyear with the Arizona League Reds. And that they’ll have a Low-A, Advanced-A, Double-A, and Triple-A team. One of those teams is almost assuredly going to be the Dayton Dragons. Who the other three teams will be, and what levels they will be affiliated with – well that’s another story with questions we don’t have answers to.