Major League Baseball is seeking to potentially reduce the number of affiliated minor league teams from 160 to 120 amid a broader reorganization, a move Minor League Baseball likened to a “death sentence” for the smallest reaches of professional baseball.
Baseball America reported MLB has made an initial proposal of a restructuring of the affiliated minor leagues that would cut the number of teams by 25 per cent, reorganize the remaining teams more on geography, and change the classification level of some clubs.
Among those clubs foremost targeted for potential removal would be ones at the low Single-A and Rookie levels of Minor League Baseball. Those franchises play in the smaller US markets and typically develop players when they are first drafted or signed. Some of the eliminated teams would be regrouped in a so-called “Dream League” that would be technically independent.
The proposal, part of negotiations for a new Professional Baseball Agreement to replace the one expiring next year, would represent some of the most radical changes in the 118-year history of Minor League Baseball.
In the changes, MLB is seeking to focus is energies on its more promising prospects, and concentrate minor league play to more modern facilities. The league is also looking to dramatically change the current rules of how major league clubs can sign with minor league affiliates every other year.
But that heavy focus on player development needs is at some odds with the prominent marketing component of Minor League Baseball, whose lower ticket prices and existence in smaller and outer US markets can serve as a key entry point to build overall fandom of the sport.
“If we are forced to defend ourselves and fight for our mere survival, we will,” said Pat O’Conner, MiLB president, to The Athletic. “We would hope to negotiate a reasonable settlement with MLB. Short of that, we have multiple options. Appealing to Congress, state, county, and local elected officials is certainly one of them.”
MLB Deputy Commissioner Dan Halem told The Athletic the proposed reorganization comes in part as a result of what the league sees as MiLB’s refusal to bear the financial cost of upgrading numerous outdated facilities.
“The minor league owners informed us in the first bargaining session that they had no desire to absorb the cost of improving the facilities they agreed were sub-par, had no desire to contribute to the cost of improving player compensation and working conditions, and had no desire to reshuffle minor league affiliates to ease the travel burden on players,” Halem said.
The rising tensions between MLB and MiLB arrive as both sides are seeking to improve minor-league player pay scales, which can run as low as $1,160 a month for a five-month season and are paid by the MLB parent clubs. Each camp expects the pay to go up, but questions remains as to by how much, and whether those increases will be essentially funded in part by an overall reduction in the minor league player base.
Negotiations, currently on hold for the ongoing MLB playoffs, are expected to resume next month in advance of December’s Winter Meetings.