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MLB threatens to walk away entirely from MiLB as feud takes uglier turn

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred

The already-tense negotiations between Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball took their ugliest turn yet over the weekend, when MLB threatened to cut ties entirely with MiLB and rebuild its player development system from scratch.

MLB’s threat to withdraw in full from the current system of minor league affiliates, an echo of a similarly hostile set of negotiations with MiLB in 1990, came in response to a detailed four-page memo MiLB released late on December 13. 

In that memo, MiLB accused MLB of “repeatedly and inaccurately” representing the positions of the affiliated minors, and went on to detail their stances on key issues in the Professional Baseball Agreement talks, including facility conditions, scheduling, franchise placement, and a particularly controversial MLB proposal to remove the affiliations of 42 franchises and render them independent. 

“The observation by the Commissioner [Rob Manfred] that MiLB has in any way adopted a ‘take it or leave it’ position on any issue is, to put it gently, demonstrably inaccurate,” MiLB said.

MLB quickly responded that night that it could seek to reconstruct its entire system for developing player prospects if MiLB refuses “address the very significant 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,” the league’s statement continued.

MiLB then returned volley with another salvo on the December 14, agreeing with MLB that it would prefer to conduct the PBA talks in private. But the organization claimed it was forced to air their issues publicly because of what it saw as misinformation coming from MLB.

“As we are dealing with a matter of compelling public interest, we believe all should agree as well that accuracy in the public commentary is of the utmost importance, and that the dissemination of non-conforming ‘information’ serves no proper purpose,” MiLB said.

US presidential candidate and Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, who met with Manfred earlier this month on the MiLB issue, then weighed in, blasting for MLB threatening to walk away entirely from MiLB.

“I’m outraged to hear of your threat to eliminate the entire existing Minor League Baseball system,” Sanders wrote to Manfred. “When we last met, you gave me your word that you would be negotiating in good faith with Minor League Baseball to preserve professional baseball in the communities that currently have it. Threatening to walk away from the entire minor league system is the exact opposite of negotiating in good faith.”

Sanders’ rebuke of MLB follows similar criticism from a broad bipartisan group of US Congress members. And like that prior statement from the legislators, Sanders referenced MLB’s limited antitrust exemption that now appears to stand at risk.

“If you think that Congress is going to sit idly by and let Major League Baseball threaten to eliminate the entire Minor League system after the taxpayers of this country have funded major league stadiums in some of the biggest cities in this country, you would be sadly mistaken,” he said.

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