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MLB-MiLB dispute reaches new level of acrimony

MLB deputy commissioner Dan Halem

The ongoing battle between Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball has now escalated to the point where it now stands in some doubt whether the two organizations can work together again. 

The two sides on January 29 released a set of letters sent to each other detailing the depth of the distrust enveloping the ongoing Professional Baseball Agreement (PBA) talks between the two.

In a letter sent from MiLB to MLB commissioner Rob Manfred, the affiliated minors said that many of the majors’ public talking points were not true, in particular taking aim at Manfred’s repeated claims of MLB providing sizable financial support to MiLB.

“It is simply not true that MLB ‘heavily subsidizes’ MiLB,” the letter reads. “MLB teams do not pay MiLB owners and their partner communities that supply the facilities and league infrastructure that enable players under contract to MLB teams the opportunity to compete at a high level.”

In an eight-page response to MiLB from MLB deputy commissioner Dan Halem, the league took a particularly defiant tone toward MiLB president Pat O’Conner, recently re-elected to a fourth term .

“MiLB and you personally are doing significant damage to your relationship with the 30 clubs by attacking publicly and in the political realm,” MLB’s letter reads. “The 30 [MLB] clubs are united in our negotiating position and misinformation tactics you have employed have only made the 30 clubs more resolute.”

The fractious talks center primarily around a MLB proposal to dramatically realign the affiliated minors, notably through the elimination of 42 franchise affiliations, a move those minor league teams say would drive them out of business.

The matter has reached the political arena, both federally through a recently introduced US Congressional resolution, and through a newly formed task force of city mayors.

Despite all that additional involvement and political pressure, both MLB and MiLB have repeatedly accused the other side of fundamentally mischaracterizing their positions. In the Halem letter, MLB said “there continues to be a disconnect between MiLB’s public messaging, government messaging, and written communications on the one hand, and the viewers expressed by MiLB at the negotiating table on the other.”

MiLB, meanwhile, said “Major League Baseball’s claims that Minor League Baseball is not participating in these negotiations in a constructive manner is false…Unfortunately, Major League Baseball continues to misrepresent our positions with misleading information in public statements that are not conducive to good faith negotiations.”

As the tension between the two continues to escalate, it now appears more likely than ever that some type of third party will be required to help facilitate negotiations. Whether that comes from Congress, the courts, or another body remains to be seen. But Halem clearly showed a new level of exasperation at the current state of the talks. 

“I personally do not believe that exchanging letters of this type is productive or increases the likelihood that the parties will reach a mutually acceptable agreement,” Halem wrote.

The parties, however, are due to conduct another bargaining session on Feb. 20.