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Minor League Baseball Will Never Be The Same

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Minor League baseball Is going through some changes

2019 Arizona Fall League Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Minor League Baseball has been going through some changes the last few years, and will be seeing even more changes going forward. Bear with me as I try to cover this hodgepodge of news all in one article.

For those have been paying attention over the last couple of years, the signs have all been there, and many of us saw this coming. In an article in the New York Times that covered MLB’s proposed changes almost a year ago to the day, much of these changes have already been implemented or are being implemented.

Independent League Partnerships

The independent Atlantic league began a partnership with Major League Baseball in 2019, to serve as a test bed for new rules. During the 2019 season, the Atlantic League tested out a number of rules; The runner on second rule in extra innings rule? That was first tested in the Atlantic League and was later implemented in the minors, before it was implemented in the Majors during this weird pandemic season. The Atlantic League tested robot umpires out in 2019, something that people have been calling for a while, and which likely will be implemented in the minors. or even possibly the Major Leagues in some form next season. This is noteworthy as Major League Baseball signed a deal on September 23rd of this year to make the Atlantic League the first of a series of official “Partner Leagues” with Major League Baseball, and MLB extended the test-bed experiment through 2023.

What exactly does this Partner League status mean? It’s not completely clear. as the details provided by MLB are limited. According to the agreement, the two leagues will meet regularly to discuss joint marketing and promotional opportunities, including the “leagues shared goal of providing baseball to communities throughout the United States,” a news release said.

Two days later on September 25th, MLB added the American Association and the Frontier League as two more Partner Leagues. The league’s press release indicates that both will “collaborate with MLB on initiatives to provide organized baseball to communities throughout the United States and Canada.”

In addition, prior to this in 2019, Major League Baseball made a deal with the Mexican baseball league making it easier for players to come to the majors, and introduced a posting system similar to what they have in Korea and Japan. I suggest reading this informative article for more on that.

Major Changes to Minor league Baseball

It comes as no surprise that Major League Baseball has announced that they’re merging operations with Minor League Baseball, and moving Minor League Baseball’s offices to the Major League Baseball office in New York. Minor League Baseball teams will now be referred to as “Licensed Affiliates”. MLB will also be hiring Peter Freund (who owns several minor league teams) and Trinity Sports Consultants to help the “licensed affiliates” with the transition. Per Maury Brown on twitt

Back in 2018 Rob Manfred fought against having to pay Minor League baseball players minimum wage, and he got Minor League Baseball owners to fight this battle for him. They lobbied to have lawmakers pass the “Save America’s Pastime Act” The owners were told that if they didn’t get it passed, some of them faced losing their teams. The owners got the job done, and on page 1,967 of a 1.3 trillion dollar spending bill, you’ll find the “Save America’s Pastime Act”

Despite this, rumors have persisted for the last year that MLB still wants to eliminate 42 Minor League Baseball teams, per Baseball America, those teams are:

Double-A

  • Binghamton Rumble Ponies
  • Chattanooga Lookouts
  • Erie SeaWolves
  • Jackson Generals

High Class A

  • Lancaster JetHawks
  • Daytona Tortugas
  • Florida Fire Frogs
  • Frederick Keys

Low Class A

  • Beloit Snappers
  • Burlington Bees
  • Clinton LumberKings
  • Lexington Legends
  • Hagerstown Suns
  • West Virginia Power

Short-Season

  • Auburn Doubledays
  • Batavia Muckdogs
  • Connecticut Tigers
  • Lowell Spinners
  • Mahoning Valley Scrappers
  • Salem-Keizer Volcanoes
  • State College Spikes
  • Staten Island Yankees
  • Tri-City Dust Devils
  • Vermont Lake Monsters
  • Williamsport Crosscutters

Rookie

  • Billings Mustangs
  • Bluefield Blue Jays
  • Bristol Pirates
  • Burlington Royals
  • Danville Braves
  • Elizabethton Twins
  • Grand Junction Rockies
  • Great Falls Voyagers
  • Greeneville Reds
  • Idaho Falls Chukars
  • Johnson City Cardinals
  • Kingsport Mets
  • Missoula Osprey
  • Ogden Raptors
  • Orem Owlz
  • Princeton Rays
  • Rocky Mountain Vibes

(D-backs Affiliates in Italics)

Those rumors have already proven true in part, with the elimination of the Appalachian league on September 29th. The Appalachian league will be converted to a college summer league. According to the article, it’s likely that many Pioneer League and New York-Penn League teams will also become part of College Summer Leagues. Between those three league, that would account for the majority of the 42 teams listed above.

One welcome change coming is a pay raise to all minor leaguers in 2021. Two years after successfully lobbying Congress to exempt minor leaguers from federal minimum wage laws, MLB opted to give those players a wage increase between 38% and 72%. The bump was discussed at the recent owners meetings and confirmed in the memo from Morgan Sword, executive vice president of baseball economics and operations. Players at rookie and short-season levels will see their minimum weekly pay raised from $290 to $400, and players at Class A will go from $290 to $500. Double-A will jump from $350 to $600, and Triple-A from $502 to $700.

It is great that Minor Leaguers are getting some kind of raise, but it shouldn’t be at the cost of 25% of the workforce, especially when those players still aren’t getting minimum wage.(Which is the reason why I think that raise still isn’t enough). It’s not just players that will be affected, there’s coaches, locker room attendants, janitors, concession workers, security personnel, maintenance and groundskeepers that will all lose their jobs from this decision. The municipalities that host these teams that are facing contraction will lose significant tax revenue, and will face a blow to their local economies without 70+ games bringing people out and participating in the economies of the area the teams are in.

To play devil’s advocate for Major League Baseball’s need to restructure the minors, there have long been issues that have needed to be addressed. The geographic distance between parent clubs has been an issue for quite some time, which this article from Prospect365 goes into while going over the logistics of Minor League contraction. An example from the article is the Rochester Redwings, the Minnesota Twins AAA affiliate, who are 1000 miles away from their parent club. An even more extreme example is the Fresno Grizzlies, the Nationals AAA affiliate, who are 2799 miles away from their parent club. The Brewers, Dodgers, and Marlins are all at least 1285 miles away from their AAA affiliates. AA is not much better, with Rockies being 1881 miles away from their AA affiliate, and the Giants being 2895 miles away from theirs. The D-backs AA affiliate, the Jackson Generals are 1561 Miles away, and the AAA affiliate the Reno Aces are 738 miles away.

So a restructuring of affiliates based solely on the need for parent clubs to be closer to their affiliates makes complete sense. Add in the fact that many Minor League facilities are out of date, and in desperate need of an update, and restructuring makes even more sense. There’s an instagram account, @minorleaguegrinders that has been made famous for documenting the appalling conditions minor leaguers have to deal with. Rob Manfred argues that by eliminating the 42 teams, and reducing the overall number of minor leaguers per team from 200 to 150, that would allow for increased wages. There’s a great article by BlessYouBoys that argues against many of these points. To summarize many of the points of the article, Major League Baseball has revenue upwards of 10 billion dollars per year, and it would cost just 3 million per team to pay every Minor Leaguer a living wage.

One wrinkle that could affect all of this is that Minor League players have been granted class action status in a lawsuit over the violation of Minimum Wage laws since 2009, and the supreme court recently denied MLB’s appeal.

Additional notes

Per Bleachernation, It’s not clear if there will even be a traditional Minor League Season at all next year, and teams are preparing for another season with Alternate Sites in lieu of a Minor League Season.

In a normal season, the Arizona Fall League would have started back on September 21st, however the Fall League was cancelled. There will be a fall instructional league, and play started October 5th. Some teams won’t start until as late as October 14th. More details here.