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MLB begins takeover of minor leagues’ governance

Major League Baseball’s formal takeover of the affiliated minor leagues of the sport became official as the league announced a long-expected shift of administration from Minor League Baseball’s prior headquarters in St. Petersburg, Florida, to MLB’s new offices in New York.

As part of that move, MLB has also hired Peter Freund and his Trinity Sports Consultants to aid in the transition. Freund, a minority partner in the New York Yankees, has ownership in three different minor league teams.  

In announcing the moves, MLB notably referred to the minor league teams for the first time as “licensed affiliates,” a phrase clearly signifying the fundamentally altered power balance that has shifted to MLB. 

“As we look to grow the partnership between Major League Baseball and its licensed affiliates and share our resources, it has always been our intention to have minor league ownership partner with us in shaping the future of Minor League Baseball,” said Dan Halem, MLB deputy commissioner. “Peter’s reputation and experience in the industry make him exceptionally well suited to assist us in transitioning to a minor league system that will be serve minor league fans, minor league players, minor league owners, and our major league clubs.”

The transition comes as MLB’s Professional Baseball Agreement with MiLB expired last week and a new deal has not materialized, though talks are are still ongoing.

But even absent a deal, MLB is essentially defining the terms of engagement with minor league team owners. Already, the league has converted the Rookie-level Appalachian League into a college wood-bat league, and struck a trio of partnerships with independent leagues that will likely serve as landing spots for some minor league franchises that will be part of MLB’s plan to contract the number of affiliated clubs.

MiLB president Pat O’Conner, meanwhile, has already announced his intention to retire at the end of the year. MiLB’s top commercial executive, David Wright, has also left the organization for US Soccer.

Freund’s charge, according to MLB, is to aid the league in developing “a more cohesive and efficient model for the development of players in all the MLB licensed markets around the country.” He is the principal owner of the Class AAA Memphis (Tennessee) Redbirds and Class A Williamsport (Pennsylvania) Crosscutters, and a co-owner of the Class A Charleston (South Carolina) RiverDogs.

“This is truly a watershed moment for professional baseball and we have a unique opportunity to find common sense solutions which benefit both major league clubs and their minor league partners,” Freund said.