As was reported yesterday, four of the current Cincinnati Reds minor league affiliates are on the chopping block by a proposed plan by Major League Baseball that they would like to implement following the 2020 baseball season. Among those teams are the rookie-level Greeneville Reds and Billings Mustangs, as well as the Advanced-A Daytona Tortugas and Double-A Chattanooga Lookouts.

The Chattanooga Lookouts co-owner Jason Freier spoke with the local NBC affiliate about the news that his team could be one of the teams being contracted as a minor league affiliate. He had a few things to say, but this seems to be the main point he was making:

We think at the end of the day the only reason that makes sense to reduce teams and not give them a chance to improve facilities for instance is for Major League Baseball to save money

This seems to be what many are feeling on the situation. This is about Major League Baseball teams wanting to cut operating expenses. It’s not about facility improvements or less travel – it’s about them not having to increase much pay for players. With the pressure seemingly on them to actually start paying minor league players an actual amount of money that works with being able to pay rent and eat food, if they cut out 80 jobs and keep the overall pay the same – the remaining players would get a raise and Major League Baseball could claim “oh, look, we gave them a raise! Now give us our standing applause!” all while never actually paying out a penny more than they were before – just giving more money to those guys remaining.

One theory that’s been floated out there is that this is all a big negotiating ploy by Major League Baseball in order to get minor league teams to begin to pay at least some of the minor league player salaries. Currently Major League Baseball get a percentage (this rate changes per level) of the gate from their affiliates. Whether this rate increases and that helps cover player salary, or there’s some other agreement that puts some of that salary on the minor league teams – the belief is that this is where things are leading. We’ll have to see, but there’s only a year for the two sides to figure something out as the agreement between Minor League Baseball and Major League Baseball is up following the 2020 season.

The Daytona Tortugas are owned by three men. Rick French is one of those three owners, and he spoke with the News Journal in Daytona Beach.

It’s just a tragedy,” said Rick French, one of the Tortugas’ three owners. “We’re going to do everything humanly possible to keep that from happening. As owners we look at ourselves as custodians of baseball history in Daytona Beach.

The owners, as expected, aren’t the only people concerned in the towns where affiliated minor league baseball could be cut out. Congress member Michael Waltz noted that he and other members of Congress signed a letter and sent it to Rob Manfred about their oppositions to this new plan. JJ Cooper of Baseball America had it first, in picture form. Several representatives have also shared the letter on their social media feeds since. I went ahead and typed the letter:

Dear Commissioner Manfred,

We are writing to express our firm opposition to Major League Baseball’s radical proposal to eliminate numerous Minor League Baseball clubs. If enacted, it would undermine the health of the minor league system that undergirds talent development and encourages fan loyalty. It would particularly be felt in areas far from a major league team or where tickets to a major league game are cost-prohibitive.

Tens of millions of fans attend Minor League Baseball games each season. These professional baseball clubs are vital components of our communities because they provide affordable, family-friendly entertainment to members of our communities, support scores of allied businesses, employ thousands of individuals, donate millions of dollars in charitable funds, and connect our communities to Major League Baseball. A number of these Minor League clubs operate at a loss, but continue to persist due to strong fan support and club ownerships’ commitment to their communities and America’s Pastime.

The abandonment of Minor League clubs by Major League Baseball would devastate our communities, their bond purchasers, and other stakeholders affected by the potential loss of these clubs. We want you to fully understand the impact this could have not only on the communities we represent, but also no the long-term support that Congress has always afforded our national pastime on a wide variety of legislative initiatives.

For over a century, Congress has taken numerous actions specifically designed to protect, preserve, and sustain a system and structure for both Major and Minor League Baseball to flourish.

You are the most important steward of the great game of baseball and tasked with ensuring the popularity and love of it across the world. Reducing the number of Minor League Baseball clubs and overhauling a century-old system that has been consistently safeguarded by Congress is not in the best interest of the overall game of baseball, especially when Major League Baseball’s revenues are at all-time highs.

As members of Congress who recognize the tremendous value of the Minor League system, we ask Major League Baseball to strongly reconsider its proposed course with Minor League Baseball and do all that it can to ensure the continuation of affiliated baseball in our communities.

The letter was signed by a total of 105 members of Congress – though at this time those members are not listed anywhere.

Statement from the Daytona Tortugas

We are shocked and disappointed to learn that Daytona is one of 42 cities on Major League Baseball’s “contraction” list as part of the 2021 proposal. Contraction is Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred’s euphemism for a city that has apparently outlived its usefulness to our national pastime.

 We want our community to know that we reject that way of thinking and will do everything humanly possible to protect the future of professional baseball in Daytona Beach and Volusia County. We also stand with the other 41 communities across this country that have been placed on Major League Baseball’s “hit” list by league executives whom are too short-sighted to realize that baseball is played — and fandom cultivated — in the cornfields of Iowa, in the sandlots of Tennessee, in the mountains of West Virginia and yes, on the playgrounds and baseball fields a block or two from The World’s Most Famous Beach.

 42 is a number that has far greater meaning to our country’s Civil Rights history than the way MLB is cavalierly tossing it around today. It symbolizes hope. It symbolizes diversity, And it symbolizes inclusion. All of those characteristics were on display on March 17, 1946 at City Island Ball Park when Jackie Robinson took the field for the first time as a professional baseball player and broke baseball’s color barrier. To this day the aptly renamed Jackie Robinson Ballpark serves as a historic pilgrimage site for baseball fans, civil rights advocates, and anyone who supports equal rights, dignity and compassion for all.

 As owners of this franchise, we see ourselves as proud caretakers of YOUR team. Minor League Baseball has been played in Daytona Beach for 100 years. Jackie Robinson, if he were alive today, would have celebrated his 100th birthday this year. And we stand 100% behind this community, its leaders and elected officials in doing whatever is necessary to ensure that Major League Baseball and its commissioner don’t rob this community of its history or OUR national pastime. We believe both Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson would stand shoulder- to-shoulder with us on this issue.

Professional baseball will be played at The Jack in 2020 but we need all of the 386 to make your voices heard for it to be enjoyed for generations to come. #StandWithTheJack

19 Responses

  1. MK

    First I wonder how many of the congressmen who signed the letter were also members who voted for the budget which contained legislation that allowed teams to keep minor league pay below the minimum wage levels.

    Also interesting that the teams with stadiums that most need upgrading are the owners being most public Told me all I needed to know about Daytona’s facilities a couple years ago when Taylor Sparks was coming back from wrist injury, after having made it to AA previously, to rehab he requested an assignment to Dayton rather than Daytona due to the quality of the facility. I know this because we talked about it.

    Wonder if the Reds are out of touch as they just last year made the a sizable financial outlay to purchase the franchise in Greeneville. Seems if they knew they would be gone in three years they might have saved the money and used it elsewhere.

    • Doug Gray

      I doubt the price to pay for Greeneville was all that much – they don’t own the stadium or land….

    • Bev

      *Since Taylor Sparks left Daytona, a brand new turf field has been put into the ballpark. (No more holes and drainage issues.) Also a new video electronic scoreboard.

  2. Stock

    At the end of the day for every team that is lost in the USA one will be added outside the USA. It is not the system that is broke. There are other factors involved. One factor is obviously money. Why pay for two parks (one in the USA and one in the Dominican or elsewhere when you are spending $5 million for a complex perfectly capable of handling 2 – 4 teams. The current salary paid players in the USA is huge money outside the USA so that argument disappears. If you can house 75 players in one place it creates huge advantages. Coaches can work with and focus on specific details with players. You can buy the most current machines and other tools to ensure the best possibility for players to succeed. To me it makes sense.

    The Chattanooga owner makes me laugh. Why does ML Baseball need to send this notice out to get them to improve their stadium. “not give them a chance”? You have had years to improve things. The reason he hasn’t made improvements is all about money. Possibly the same reason MLB would leave Chattanooga. This was not a well thought out statement.

    I think at the end of the day, every MLB team will have one rookie league team in the USA (alternatively two but both AZ or FL). Every team will have at least two teams outside the USA. I could see one of the leagues outside the USA be on par with the Pioneer league as far as talent goes.

    This is better for the owners and better for the players.

    • Doug Gray

      Well, for starters – MLB isn’t paying for ANY of the stadiums in the minor leagues (and they aren’t paying for most of the ones in the Majors either….).

      As for what the Chattanooga owner said – it’s simple: It’s in the contract between minor league baseball and major league baseball – there are operation standards currently that must be met. Instead of updating those standards, major league baseball is just telling them that we’re going to just cut your entire existence away instead.

      As for the league outside of the US, it’s never going to be on par with the Pioneer League.

      • Stock

        I think my comment makes it pretty clear that I know MLB does not own or update the stadiums. Why does ML Baseball need to send this notice out to get THEM to improve their stadium. That THEM makes it clear that someone else should be paying for stadium improvements not MLB.

        Again why does MLB need to threaten to cut away their existence for them to make the necessary upgrades.

        I am not sure we know enough for you to say “never”. If within the next 5 years every team in baseball has 4 teams outside the USA there is no doubt one will be at least on Par with the Pioneer league. If every team maxes out at 2 then I see the Reds losing Billings and Greeneville and having two team, at two different levels in AZ. My point is that this level does not disappear. The Pioneer league may very well disappear. However, players at this level will have to be playing somewhere.

        I think MLB will still have 7 levels of play and 8 teams. The question is where will these teams be located.

  3. Simon Cowell

    Companies that are forced to pay more for wages to reduce staff. Just look at what is happending with automated checkout. They pay the remaining workers slightly more but they are reducing staff.

    I think the players union will be the one to actually decide how this goes down. Will they demand minor league player be included in the union and be given a fair share of the pie along with employment protection? They won’t if it decreases the maximum size of contracts. Both sides are being greedy and is why we will see a work stopage.

    The solution should be with a compromise from both sides. The team should be willing to guarantee a % percentage of revenues towards players and player development and the players union should be willing to give some of that % to minors as well. Everyone wins if they can compromise.

    • MK

      Can not imagine this will happen as minor leaguers would outnumber major leaguers 5 to 1, at least. No way the big leaguers are going to allow a vote under these circumstances where minor leaguers economic interests over major leaguers were voted on 5 to 1 to minor leaguers favor. No way there would ever be an mlb strike vote where the lesser paid minor leaguers were involved.

      • Simon Cowell

        Not necessarily an equal piece of the pie but maybe a piece. Maybe the MLBPA can sponsor and help fund/establish an effective MILBPA.

    • Big Ed

      Yes, Economics 101 would predict that increasing the wages for MiLB players would result in fewer MiLB players, all things being equal.

      The MLB proposal, in a nutshell, is to eliminate short-season leagues. If they move the draft back 6-10 weeks, and pushing the Dreamer Leagues (or whatever it’s name), they are just pushing off the short-season development costs onto the players themselves. Good luck getting the Kyler Murrays of the world with that attitude.

      The union oughta start a short-season league, and outbid MLB for players.

    • Colorado Red

      Simon,
      While I understand both sides of the argument, I do not the MLB players wanting to give up a slice of the pie.
      The owners are trying to cut MLB pay (mid level FA) down.
      There are going to be enough issues, they will not want more.

  4. Billy

    Do MLB teams need 6-7 minor league teams in order to develop talent? If they’re paying guys that aren’t viewed as prospects, I can understand why they don’t want to raise wages. I’m not saying they’re right, but I understand the perspective.

    Personally, I want to see the best possible baseball on MLB fields. If these changes result in turning prospects into players in 2 years instead of 4, then I’m good with it.

    I don’t think it is a death knell for a minor league team to lose affiliation. There are unaffiliated leagues out there doing fine. Maybe the players don’t make much. But these aren’t players who should be treating baseball as a career. This plan just helps these players realize that their dreams won’t be coming true and gives them the nudge that it’s time to move on.

    I do get that it will suck for some communities. But I also think that it is low hanging fruit to just blame the rich owners for wanting more money, which seems to be the knee jerk reaction in most places. There are some benefits of this plan. I just don’t think the benefits of the plan are really being given much consideration.

    • Oldtimer

      Reds typically had 8 farm teams in 1950s and 1960s when there were only 16 MLB teams and 400 MLB players. Today there are 30 and 780 (starting in 2020) respectively.

      So YES teams need 7 or 8 teams in minor leagues to develop that many MLB players.

      • Billy

        I fully believe that teams have learned a lot that would make them way more efficient at developing talent these days.

  5. Redsvol

    Personally, I see the point in most of MLB’s plan. I think its both designed to force the shabbier parks in the upper levels to update facilities and get rid of the lower levels that typically needed for the top talent. For example, Lodolo didn’t really need to pitch in Greenville or Billings. He could have gotten that experience at the Arizona facility and then moved to Dayton.
    Selfishly, I’d hate to see either greeneville or Chattanooga eliminated since I got to see both last year. I think the Chattanooga ballpark is quite nice but I’m not seeing the player development angle. The appalachian league where Greenville plays will just have to become a “Dreamer” league which the MLB teams scout for talent. 40 rounds in the MLB draft is just silly anyway. NBA has 2 rounds and NFL has 7.

  6. Bill

    All good businesses look to cut operating cost when they are unproductive. That doesn’t seem like a logical reason to oppose this effort. Travel is a problem for MiLB teams/players. Pay is a problem. Facilities are problematic at some locations. Both sides seem to agree on those points. MLB franchises don’t like having to shuffle affiliates every couple of years. According to the Congressional letter, some of the teams are operating at a loss. It sounds like there are lots of reasons for structural change.

    Where MLB’s proposal is problematic is the swiftness for enactment and MLB’s reported unwillingness to negotiate. With so many civic funds invested and so many individual investors involved there are many equities that need to be negotiated. At best, this will be very complex and time consuming.

  7. Martino

    You know..this is symptomatic of the very same things that eliminated all the baseball fields and parks I knew of and played on as a kid. I just pulled up google earth to see that the 8 fields I played on as a kid are now gone forever.In their places are concrete paths leading basically nowhere for people who very rarely walk on them. Where we once cultivated the game for kids everywhere we now have a handful of high school fields that can never rival their football counterparts and the few that still remain have almost zero stands and bleachers for parents and friends to watch the kids play, but football fields on the other hand completely dwarf baseball fields to make the game nearly completely bleached out of the childhood experience of growing up dreaming of being a big league player. And so what we do is to merely outsource yet another once sought after job to yet another foreign entity in the Dominican Republic and other locations. If this is baseball’s goal then the sport deserves a slow death.