This afternoon there was some incredible breaking news from both David Waldstein of The New York Times and JJ Cooper of Baseball America. At The New York Times, Waldstein first noted that Major League Baseball is pushing for an overhaul of the Minor Leagues. Shortly after that, Cooper had a far more expansive and more detailed article on it.

There is a whole lot to unpack here. And both articles are ones that you should read as they both have information within that is key to what could happen, and what’s being proposed. The big part of the story is this: Major League Baseball has proposed eliminating 42 teams from Minor League Baseball after the 2020 season.

Currently there are 160 teams in the minors that aren’t at the complex level. The plan would be to cut that down to 120 teams. At this time this is just a proposal being offered to Minor League Baseball. The current contract between the two organizations ends after the 2020 season.

The reduction of teams and what it means

The heart of the story is the reduction in teams. And it seems that nearly all of those teams would come from the short-season levels. The Reds full-season teams, for the most part, would seem safe. With one exception: Daytona. One of the stated reasons for reduction is that facilities that aren’t up to standard for Major League Baseball. The Tortugas play in a ballpark in Daytona that has been around for over 100 years. The clubhouses aren’t exactly up to date. That’s not to say that they can’t be updated, but among the full-season teams and not just the Reds affiliates, they are not anywhere near the top. Dayton and Louisville stand out for their facilities. Chattanooga falls more towards the middle of things overall.

The rookie-level teams are where things are concerning. Billings and Greeneville are the teams that would be directly in the cross hairs. From the article by David Waldstein at The New York Times:

For some minor league teams, the proposal could mean losing their affiliation with M.L.B. clubs. The most vulnerable teams are those in the Appalachian League, Northwest League and New York-Penn League. Other short-season teams, like the Brooklyn Cyclones, the Mets’ short-season team in the New York-Penn League, could be converted to full-season teams, perhaps even in higher levels like Class AA.

The original article also mentioned the Frontier League in that group, but was edited out – it is not currently an affiliated league. Baseball America, however, did note that the Pioneer League could be in the line of fire, so-to-speak.

On the surface, the first thing that comes to mind is that fewer teams means fewer jobs for players. For the Cincinnati Reds, in theory, they would be losing two teams of affiliated players. That’s 70 active roster spots. In reality, thanks to injured list spots, it’s more than that. But for teams like the Yankees, who have more teams overall, as noted in the Baseball America article, it could cost them 135 player spots.

Let’s just call it 85 roster spots for each organization to make the math easy. That means 2,550 minor league player jobs would no longer exist in affiliated baseball. What that doesn’t include in there are the jobs of coaches/managers, too. Obviously there are a lot more player jobs than manager/coaching jobs – but there are 3-4 of those per team, too. And don’t forget the trainer and strength coach. So that’s another 160+ jobs in affiliated baseball that are gone.

The non-MLB paid jobs at risk

Beyond the jobs paid for by the Major League Baseball teams, there are a lot of jobs at risk here, too. The front offices of minor league teams vary in size. They’ve all got a general manager, who serves in a role that is very different from the one associated with a Major League team. The general manager is more like that of the manager of the organization in the non-baseball side of things. But there are also broadcaster jobs for each team, in some cases there are photographer jobs, videographer jobs. There are sales jobs at some places. Graphic designer jobs may exist at some places. All of the ushers for the games have jobs currently. Everyone that works at any of the food/drink/souvenir stands. The grounds crew.

It’s tough to estimate the number of jobs that are here because it is going to vary quite a bit from organization to organization. But even if it’s just 15 part-time jobs and 3 full-time jobs per organization, that’s another big chunk of jobs that are gone.

Major League Baseball’s plan, of course if it were to go through, is to keep these towns and teams alive. But they would need to convert to something other than affiliated baseball. Maybe you become an independent team. Or maybe you turn into a wood bat summer league team. And in theory, that’s all nice and fine – but it’s a theory built on no thought.

Minor League Baseball is selling the idea that you can come have a good time watching baseball’s future stars. And yes, some people are going to see more than your Hunter Greene’s or your Wander Franco’s. But are those same people going to show up if the league is filled with guys who aren’t ever going to be the caliber of those players? And the league is never going to have guys who were even drafted? It’s tough for me to buy into the franchises keeping afloat when the entire team roster is made up of players who weren’t drafted.

The talk is that Major League Baseball would use some of, or most of the teams in setting up a league(s) for undrafted players (in the proposal the draft is also cut in half, but we’ll have more on that later). But, as noted just above – people aren’t going to show up to see that. Just like they don’t show up to watch hardly any of those leagues that exist now. And some of those leagues have actual, real Major League prospects playing there who just happen to still be in college.

More to come

If you went ahead and read the two linked articles, you know that there’s a whole heck of a lot going on here. Because of all of the things going on, this is going to wind up being a multi-part series talking about various aspects of what’s going on. There’s simply too much for one article. Right now we’ve only really addressed the jobs aspect of it. I’d still like to address the draft aspect, the international signing aspect (and this in particular comes into play with the Reds in a rather big way in my opinion), the future of the game impact this has, and probably some other things that I’m forgetting about right this second.

In the end, this whole story feels like easily the biggest story that’s happened since I’ve started covering minor league baseball. I think it’s probably the biggest story in baseball right now.

26 Responses

  1. Simon Cowell

    2,550 employees who will no longer have to complain about not being paid enough.

    Does that mean ray raises for those that remain? Doubtful.

    I wonder if this is MLB beginning a downsizing phase.

  2. Big Ed

    The other major proposal was to move the draft to August. The vast majority of the drafted players would not play affiliated ball that first year, although I suppose the guys like Lodolo could. The college players would presumably be playing in wood-bat leagues that summer.

    I like the part of realigning leagues to cut down on travel and to group MLB affiliates closer to the home team, to the extent it is possible.

    I got the impression that the development guys think that that they can evaluate prospects better at complexes than in the Appalachian League, and that this would lead to more guys at the complexes and more levels of games there.

    But it is almost certainly about money.

    The big thing to remember is that this is MLB’s opening salvo, and a lot could change before they get an agreement. And it may make college baseball a notch better.

    • Colorado Red

      Except for the higher draft choices would not play after the season ends.
      Too much risk.

    • MK

      This could create a larger number of arm problems for younger pitchers as the Showcases have in some places been tied to increased Tommy John’s. The theory being the young guys trying to light up the radar guns to improve their draftability. More showcases more bad elbows and shoulders. For evidence read the book “The Arm” by Jeff Passan.

    • jim walker

      Back when I was a kid old enough to know such things (late/ mid 1950’s) there were class B-D official minor leagues. I suspect the growth of college baseball at least in part stems from the contraction(s) which eliminated those classes.

  3. Kevin Davis

    Doug,

    Maybe this is part of the reality that baseball is not as popular is it used to be. Don’t know the statistics but I am guessing that at the high school level there are just not as many kids playing baseball as there used to be. I go past fields during the summer here in Northern Kentucky and there are nobody on the fields at time. I would also be curious as to what the attendance figures in minor league baseball have been like.

    • Doc

      Just moved to Tucson at the beginning of June and as a retiree I am out and about at various times on various days all day long. There is a huge complex of very good looking fields along I-10, the Kino parks, and I have only once seen the fields being used by baseball players. I see some guy on a mower more often.

      Another huge complex of what look like soccer fields is going in across I-10 from the ball fields. Don’t know what that says about baseball’s popularity.

    • Oldtimer

      Three good choices. Each is experienced MLB manager. (Obviously not a minimum requirement; Sparky Who?) But any of the three would be a good choice.

      I’d rather have good players than a good manager BUT (to quote Houston Oilers’ coach Bum Phillips long ago) A Good Coach/Manager Can Take His’n’ And Beat Your’n, Or He Can Take Your’n And Beat His’n.

      Yep, that is nearly a direct quote from Bum Phillips.

  4. Krozley

    Given the Reds own the Greeneville franchise, it is probably safe from extraction and will probably move to become an “A” league franchise to in essence replace Daytona. Billings is probably out of luck, given their location, which is a shame. I think the teams will ultimately have multiple “complex” teams, so maybe not as many lost players as it may first appear. The players that remain after the downsize will be better compensated as a 50% raise was mentioned and if there are only 20 rounds in the draft, most of them will get 6 figure signing bonuses (the Reds had 16 players sign for $100K or over each of the last two drafts). What gets cut will be the poorer facilities and filler players, so the product should be better overall. I think it will be a win for those that remain, but obviously stink for those that get left out. As someone pointed out, it needs to be kept in mind that there will be changes to all this before an agreement is reached.

    • Tom Mills

      The entire Appy league goes away in this proposal. So Greeneville is almost certainly a casualty. (As is Billings). Billings will have to be compensated, but Greeneville is a “free” close. So if this proposal goes thru Greeneville is DOA.

    • Bill

      Both articles stated that teams with poor facilities would close and the short-season rookie leagues would close. From that, I infer if your location has facilities your probably safe, even if your currently in a league that is shuttered. These teams would move to a higher level of minor league baseball and replace higher level teams with substandard facilities.

    • Doug Gray

      The fact that the Reds do own the team helps. But on the flip side, the Reds don’t own any of the facilities, either. Toss in that it’s in a town the size that it is, and I just don’t know if it works. Of course, I don’t know a lot about what exactly the re-alignment, and the factors involved would be within those leagues in terms of “what do you need to meet to fit into this league” are. I’ll say this, though, Greeneville doesn’t have the size to support what we currently think of when it comes to an A-ball team.

      • Nathan

        Daytona is also a geographic outlier in relation to the other Florida State League teams. With the Braves (likely) moving through Fire Frogs to North Port the next closest teams are Lakeland and St Lucie.

        The Rays are almost certainly leaving St Petersburg, either to Tampa or out of state. That would leave a market void for baseball in St Petersburg. That would be an excellent place for a large facility to host an FSL team and spring training. I know there are still 10 years left on the Goodyear agreement but it would be an interesting thing for the Reds to consider. It would get spring training closer to their fan base and the high A club would have a lot of teams very close to play

  5. Simon Cowell

    I personally think the minors should work independently of the big leagues. Allow the Major League team to “purchase” the rights of individual players. Make it a drafting and lotto system. Then enforce minimum wage laws on all players. Require every MLB team to contribute X amount of dollars towards financing Milb. All problems solved.

    • MK

      There would be many fewer teams this way, some do not draw very well and just do not have the revenue to pay players and pay the other expenses necessary to exist. Many draw under 1000 people a night and would go out of business quickly.

  6. Optimist

    Haven’t been to the links yet, but wonder how they cover the political/lobbying aspect of this? Interesting that Doug summarizes the non-player job numbers. Given that Montana basically loses an entire league, I wonder how its elected officials feel about MLB’s antitrust exemption? Go state-by-state and city-by-city, and you could get a pretty political blowback.

    Finally – has the MLBPA said anything? – OK – off to read in depth.

  7. MK

    There are a few facilities that are very below standards. I have coached at better high school facilities than the Midwest League’s Beloit team. Even their motel situation is a dump , I won’t mention the franchise, but Delino DeShields almost got shot there a few years ago. The office gave him the key to the wrong room when he started go go in the room he heard a dog start to growl and the sound of a pistol cocking. He obviously a apologized and got out of their quickly.

    However I could see a lawsuit from a city like Billings who have constructed a new publicly financed stadium that has incorporated modern mlb needs into their facility.

    Obviously the Reds did not see this coming with the expansion of their teams to Greeneville. They could probably expand a little in the AZL as several teams have more than one team in the league.

    • Bill

      Cooper’s article says MLB’s proposal is on rookie level complex team per franchise … five total MiLB affiliates per franchise.

      • Doug Gray

        I’ll have more on it as the series moves forward, but there’s not a limit on DSL teams. So maybe we see the Reds go back to two teams and get the AZL back to basically being a place for US/Canadian/Puerto Rican draft picks in a situation where they want more players rather than less.

  8. Bill

    Thanks for getting out some of your thoughts on this so quickly … your hard work and insight into minor league baseball is certainly worthy of your readers support!

    My quick thoughts … this is going to be exceptionally hard to pull off. Compensating franchise owners that lose their PDC, seeking compensation from franchises that move up levels, providing compensation to those that move down levels … I’d bet attorneys across the country are licking their chops to challenge a hosts of specifics aspects of an agreement with change of this magnitude. The franchise valuations/compensation will have to be worked to the vast majorities satisfaction for this proposal to stand a chance.

    I like the goals: improved facilities and player compensation. Five affiliated teams likely provides a sufficient pipeline to maintain MLB as the undisputed best baseball league in the world. It would be good to treat these athletes as full-time, year round, employees so they can focus on their craft.

    I’m not sure I really understand your statement, “but it’s a theory built on no thought.” I would certainly hope MLB conducted market research on the viability of a ‘Dream League’, but you may have insight that you haven’t shared yet or that wasn’t detailed in the links provided. If a ‘Dream League’ is viable, it would mostly eliminate the job issue.

    I would anticipate this proposal would have some positive effect on pushing more high end high school talent to college vice minor league baseball. It would also be good in my opinion if the later draft allowed for the college season to begin later and continue into the summer semester. Its really too cold, even in the southern states for baseball in February.

    I would guess the MLBPA would like the draft to have fewer rounds … more amateur free agents may be a carrot (probably just a really small baby carrot).

    I look forward to your follow on article … thanks again for running a great site.

  9. jim walker

    I just read the BA article. They have posted a header note that proposal to move the draft was inaccurately reported in the original article.

    Instead of August, MLB wants to move the draft back to some other earlier point that is after the College World Series but not as late as August. This is just my speculation; but, not later than July 1 or the All Star Break?

    One reason they want to push the draft back is probably to get a look at many more high school guys at a higher level of competition in a wooden bat league ahead of the draft. The wooden bat leagues would also offer the opportunity to get extended looks at college guys from not top of the heap D1 schools versus a higher level of competition.

    Essentially they’d be replacing rookie leagues with these subsidized but technically unpaid leagues to cull and vet.