In what is almost a carbon copy of what they did to the Appalachian League, Major League Baseball has proposed to owners of New York-Penn League teams the conversion of the league from Minor League Baseball to a wood-bat college summer league. The news comes from Baseball America’s JJ Cooper.
The difference between the proposed league and what was done with the Appalachian League is simple. The Appalachian League will be for rising freshmen and sophomores, while the NY-Penn League would be for rising seniors. This difference would mean that teams that take the route would maintain a level of play very similar to that of the New York-Penn League of 2019.
The league that MLB proposed would play a 60-game season, a significant drop from the 76-game season the NY-Penn League currently plays. That drop in revenue will also come with a drop in league expenses. Losing eight home-games could mean a significant loss of revenue for the higher market teams.
The idea of NY-Penn League teams becoming summer college teams is nothing new. Former NY-Penn League cities like Pittsfield, Jamestown, Olean, Oneonta, Watertown, Utica, and others have all taken that root in the past when they lost their professional teams. It has been rumored that teams like Vermont, Auburn, Williamsport, and Batavia would be best suited to college summer leagues instead of minor league baseball. Those three markets would likely jump at the chance to move to the college summer circuit since it offers lower operational costs and keeps the teams in those areas. What complicates matters a bit is that Batavia is currently owned by the league itself.
As for other teams in the league, moving to a college summer format would not make sense. Aberdeen, Tri-City, Lowell, State College, Mahoning Valley, Connecticut, Staten Island, West Virginia, Hudson Valley, and Brooklyn will likely find homes in full-season minor leagues or in independent leagues. Aberdeen, Hudson Valley, Brooklyn, and West Virginia are expected to become full-season minor league teams while the remaining teams will likely head to either the Frontier League or the Atlantic League. Brooklyn is expected to become the Double-A affiliate of the Mets, playing in the Eastern League.
What would that mean for the Yankees affiliate in Staten Island? Staten Island will not be retained as part of the four full-season levels. The prospects of the team surviving as a college summer league team that charges for attendance are non-existent. Staten Island is already home to a college summer league team that plays baseball at the College of Staten Island, the same field the Staten Island Yankees played on in 1999 and 2000. That team does not charge for attendance and only has a small handful of people in attendance at each game.
The history of independent teams in the area does not bode well for the future of the Staten Island franchise if they go the Frontier League route. Frontier League teams in the area draw equal to or less than what the Staten Island team drew as a Yankees affiliate. With the estimated $200,000-300,000 additional cost of operating a Frontier League team the likelihood of them being able to make enough money to survive is negligible. If professional baseball is to survive on Staten Island outside of affiliated Minor League Baseball, the best chance would be as a member of the Atlantic League which has a level of play more akin to AAA than Low-A or college baseball.
The list of teams being retained will be announced at some point after the 2020 election. Until then the fate of the NY-Penn League as a whole will remain rumor and innuendo. What we can say with certainty is that the days of affiliated minor league baseball on Staten Island have come to an end.