Yesterday, Baseball America’s JJ Cooper released a report that Major League Baseball is prepping a term sheet to give to Minor League Baseball representatives that will lay out specifically which 120 teams will be a part of full-season baseball in 2021 and which leagues will survive.
For now, MLB is focused on its negotiations with the MLB Player’s Association on the plan to restart baseball in 2020 amid the coronavirus pandemic. But that does not mean that they have completely put aside the changes they wish to make to MiLB going forward. The last time both sides met was on April 22, via teleconference and it was expected that MiLB would be indicating to MLB that they would agree to discuss the contraction. Afterward, both sides issued a joint press release after.
The pandemic has been devastating for minors. Many teams throughout the country have been forced to furlough or reduce their staff. Combine that with the uncertainty about whether they will be around in 2021, which makes things even more difficult for operators. There has been little to no answer on whether MiLB games would be attempted to be played this season but with each passing day, the outlook is looking bleak. No front office workers that I have personally spoken to believe there is a chance for a 2020 season in the minors, at least not one at the minor league affiliates.
Unlike Major League Baseball, Minor League Baseball teams do not have the luxury of playing before empty stands and making money via media rights. Ticket sales remain the primary driver of revenue for MiLB teams, with sponsorships coming in second followed by concessions and merchandise sales. Everything relies on teams being able to get people into the ballpark and there is no way any of the teams could operate without fans. This situation is leaving MiLB operators desperate for some kind of relief that could help alleviate the losses they are going to sustain in 2020 and beyond.
Enter MLB. In JJ Cooper’s story on Baseball America, he talked about how MiLB teams are jockeying for position in the 120 plan and presented the theoretical situation of MiLB teams giving an MLB team an ownership stake as a way to protect them from contraction. That would be an interesting scenario if it were to happen. A team like Staten Island, which was on the initial list that was made public in October was once partially owned by the Yankees could this lead to a reunion of sorts. Who knows at this point?
The Yankees are a team that will be taking a big hit in terms of prospects they will have spots for if and when the minor’s contract. With nine affiliates, six of them above the complex level, the Yankees have opportunities to offer players. At present-time, 21 out of the top 50 prospects ended the 2019 season in short-season or Rookie ball. That is across five teams. Losing that many spots drastically changes how a team acquires players and develops them. These questions will have to be answered once the new Professional Baseball Agreement is agreed to and put into effect.
In the initial list released back in October, only the Staten Island Yankees were slated to be contracted. That does not mean that Staten Island would be the only team to lose its affiliation with the Yankees. There is no guarantee that any team other than Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and Tampa will remain in the organization. Both of those teams are either partially or wholly owned by the big club meaning they are safe. Pulaski was slated to be saved and moved to a higher classification, but it will be likely to find itself with a new parent club.
Part of the realignment plans includes teams moving classification meaning a Double-A team may move to Triple-A or even down to Class-A and vice-versa. That means there is no guarantee Charleston or Trenton remains in their respective classifications or leagues. This opens a lot of opportunities open. For the teams that do not retain an affiliation, MLB has proposed several ideas to keep baseball in those cities including the “Dream League” and bringing in college summer leagues.
One thing is for sure. with the news of the term sheet by Baseball America, we are inching toward a clearer picture of the future of the minors. What that means for the teams or players though remains to be seen.