Major shakeup in minors looks likely
by Will Lingo
August 16, 2005
When no one
will talk about it (at least officially), you know something's going on.
Since we first heard rumors about possible changes to the draft and the
structure of the short-season level of the minor leagues, Baseball America
reporters have called more than 20 people who work in the game, from agents to
general managers to scouting and farm directors to minor league presidents to
Major League Baseball officials.
Many didn't return our calls. Some responded with a simple no comment. Others
said they had heard rumors but didn't know anything concrete. And several people
spoke to us on the condition they not be identified.
"I've got stuff on my desk from the commissioner's office that I haven't
sifted through yet, but it's going to be for next year," one farm director
So while a lot of details remain unclear, one thing seems
unmistakable--changes are afoot. And here's your executive summary of the likely
alterations based on all the conversations we've had:
Major League Baseball intends to push the date of the draft back to the end
of June for 2006, and hopes to institute a signing date that would be four to six
weeks later by 2007.
There is interest in establishing an MLB-sponsored predraft scouting
The two leagues based at spring training complexes--the Arizona and Gulf
Coast leagues--will not play after this season.
The Pioneer League will be regarded as the same level as the New York-Penn
and Northwest leagues (right now it's a step below), so all three leagues taken
together will provide 30 short-season affiliations.
The Appalachian League will become a co-op league.
The short-season schedule will begin and end earlier than it does now,
likely running from May into August rather than June into September, and will
lead into a mandatory instructional league program that will run for at least six
Death Sentence For Appy?
None of this is certain, of course, and BA wasn't even able to confirm the
bureaucratic steps that remain for any of these changes to be implemented. Farm
and scouting directors were scheduled to take up all these issues at their
meetings in Orlando next week.
What happens from there is not clear. "We will have to sign off if it's
approved," said one Minor League Baseball official.
And would Minor League Baseball sign off on such a change as the Appy League
becoming co-op, which would seem to be the first step on a path toward
eliminating the league altogether?
"It's just hypocritical to say you want to cut costs and eliminate the Appy
League--or put it on the road to death by making it co-op--after asking these
communities to spend all the money they have spent trying to upgrade their
ballparks and bring them up to MLB's specs," said one executive with an Appy
League club. "They want to save a couple of bucks that would amount to the salary
of a utility infielder in the big leagues, and if that kills baseball in these
communities, oh well."
The main thing saving the Appy League from the ax now is the Professional
Baseball Agreement, which governs the relationship between the minors and majors.
The PBA says the Arizona, Gulf Coast and Appalachian leagues can be expanded or
contracted by MLB as it sees fit.
The AZL and GCL are easy to get rid of because they don't operate as true
minor league franchises. Teams have no front-office staffs, don't sell tickets
and just play day games to give players development time. Appy League franchises
are owned by major league clubs but run by local operators as other minor league
The league is protected for now by the PBA provision that guarantees minor
league teams 160 major league affiliates. Without that, it seems likely the
majors would push back to 150.
Many Questions Remaining
So the ultimate long-term effect would seem to be reducing each organization's
minor league affiliates from six to five, with only one short-season affiliate
for each team.
The wild card is the Appy League. Will it go co-op on the way to going away,
or are the creative, untraditional ways to utilize those 10 teams? And if the
Braves wanted to keep their full affiliation with Danville, for example, would
they be allowed to do that?
The reverberations of the other potential changes could occupy the BA staff
through hours of meandering discussions. Will this slow development time for
players? Will it benefit college and independent baseball? Can we have the
predraft combine in Durham?
About the only thing certain right now seems to be the likely death of the
complex leagues, and few people are shedding tears about that.
"Cleaning up the minors, I don't think that is a bad idea at all," one agent
said. "Players typically really hate the complex leagues. It kills their spirit,
with the heat, no fans. Whether or not that should be the case, it is what
happens. It's a point of negotiation at times--guys will trade other stuff to
stay out of the complex leagues, so I think it's good to get rid of them."
Beyond that, though, no one is sure how player development will look different
in 2006. But everyone is sure that it will look different.