A Timeline Of Professional Baseball Agreement Negotiations Between MLB, Minor League Baseball

In its dealings with Minor League Baseball’s negotiating committee, Major League Baseball has made clear its desire to take control of the minor leagues. As MLB has explained to MiLB, it believes that it can run the minors with more cost-efficiency while producing more revenue for minor league teams. Such a move would also allow MLB to exert more direct control over some of the aspects of Minor League Baseball that currently create hurdles for MLB’s goals.

That MLB takeover is expected to happen later this year, either through an agreement with minor league team owners to adopt a new system or through a decision to set up MLB’s own development system after the current Professional Baseball Agreement expires on Sept. 30.

Baseball America has covered these negotiations between MLB and MiLB exhaustively over the last two years. Below is a timeline of events and key developments, first reported by J.J. Cooper, in the Professional Baseball Agreement negotiations between Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball. Key dates in the canceled minor league season are included.

Understandably, a wholesale realignment of the minor leagues has been the focus of much attention. In reality, it is only the first part of Major League Baseball’s plans for the game.

Through its marketing muscle and new agreements, MLB is looking to take on a much larger role in guiding the sport at all levels in the United States and around the world.

Five years after he took over as Major League Baseball commissioner, Rob Manfred appears much closer to his goal of establishing “One Baseball,” a term he began using regularly as soon as he succeeded Bud Selig.

Under MLB’s plans, it will play a much more significant guiding role—and possibly a larger financial one—in the game at almost all levels. You can read about its full ‘One Baseball’ plan here.

Oct. 18, 2019: Baseball America reports on MLB’s plan presented to Minor League Baseball that would cut the minor leagues from 160 ticket-buying teams to 120. The plan would also resize, restructure and reclassify many minor leagues. See that initial report here

Nov. 20, 2019: MLB makes clear ahead of the Owners Meetings that its opening proposal to Minor League Baseball is no negotiating ploy, and that the two sides are in for a bumpy ride. In a letter, MLB states that “most of the players on the rosters of Rookie, short-season and low Class A teams are there to fill rosters so the minor league teams can stage games for their fans, not because the major league clubs require all of those players to develop major league talent.”

Dec. 14, 2019: MLB and Minor League Baseball fail to make progress on a new PBA at the Winter Meetings. MLB threatens to abandon the PBA altogether, thus leaving behind the existing minor league structure, which has been in place for 120 years. The resulting new format would leave major league clubs “free to affiliate with any minor league team or potential team in the United States, including independent league teams and cities which are not permitted to compete for an affiliate under the current agreement.”

March 12, 2020: MLB suspends spring training amid fears of coronavirus spread.

March 15, 2020: MLB halts workouts and sends minor league players home; major league players were advised to leave two days earlier.

March 27, 2020: MLB and the players’ union agree to reduce the 2020 draft to no more than 10 rounds and as few as five as part of a larger raft of coronavirus modifications to the 2020 season. As part of the deal, the 2021 draft is cut from 40 rounds to 20. With a downsized draft reducing the number of incoming players, the necessity of the lower levels of the minor leagues are undercut by MLB months before the expiration of the PBA.

April 1, 2020: As minor league teams brace for the likelihood of a canceled season—and the crushing financial losses it would entail—their hopes of a one- or two-year extension of the PBA are dashed.

April 9, 2020: The scheduled Opening Day for full-season minor leagues was wiped away by the coronavirus.

April 21, 2020: Minor League Baseball agrees to adopt improved facility standards, to adjust Player Development Contracts so that major league organizations have greater control over choosing affiliates and to shorten travel and improve geographical cohesiveness of leagues. MiLB also signals its willingness to consider MLB’s plan to reduce the number of affiliates from 160 to 120 as part of a larger deal.

May 4, 2020: MLB makes clear its desire to run the affiliated minor leagues. The minor leagues had operated independent of MLB, first as the National Association and then as Minor League Baseball, since 1901. MLB argues that it could run the minor leagues with less overhead and could produce more revenue for teams thanks to their sponsorship and marketing muscle.

May 20, 2020: As both major and minor league teams anticipate a world without two-year Player Development Contracts binding parent clubs to affiliates, parties from both sides begin communicating affiliation preferences, lending the process a “wild west” atmosphere.

June 10, 2020: A truncated five-round draft begins. See 2020 draft results here

June 12, 2020: Major league teams are instructed to find nearby alternate training sites where prospects and Triple-A types can train.

June 17, 2020: The first of the short-season leagues would have begun play. The canceled season deprives teams in the Appalachian, Pioneer and possibly the New York-Penn leagues of farewell seasons before they lose their affiliations.

June 23, 2020: A majority of minor leagues would have staged their all-star games at the season’s midpoint.

June 25, 2020: As MLB asks its 30 clubs about preferred minor league affiliations for 2021, many minor league teams realize that their solvency is threatened, because without a season they would not have the cash on hand to make full refunds on 2020 tickets and sponsorships.

June 30, 2020: The minor league season is officially canceled.

July 12, 2020: Date of the canceled Futures Game at Dodger Stadium.

Aug. 3, 2020: With less than two months to go before the PBA’s expiration, Minor League Baseball disbanded its negotiating team and replaced it with a group seen as more closely aligned with MiLB president and CEO Pat O’Conner. The original negotiating committee was composed of a number of minor league owners and was appointed by O’Conner and served at his direction.

Aug. 5, 2020: The new Minor League Baseball negotiating team submits a proposal that calls for the preservation of an independent MiLB along with a slimmed-down office in St. Petersburg, Fla. The proposal is viewed by MLB as a step backward from progress previously made.

Aug. 12, 2020: The Minor League Baseball board of trustees installs a third negotiating team in 10 days. This team includes many of the same members of the team disbanded earlier in August, sending a clear message to MiLB president Pat O’Conner that the trustees were comfortable with the direction of negotiations under the original negotiating team. The new negotiating team is sent to O’Conner for his approval.

Aug. 28, 2020: The approximate date at which Arizona Fall League rosters are traditionally announced. Without a plan in place, an AFL season appears unlikely.

Sept. 7, 2020: Labor Day traditionally signals the end of the minor league season.

Sept. 8, 2020: Pat O’Conner retires, signaling the likely end of the minors’ independence

Sept. 30, 2020: The PBA governing the working conditions between the major and minor leagues expires. Without a new deal, the working agreement between MLB and the minor leagues ends on this date. Read more…

Oct. 7, 2020: MLB makes a somewhat surprising move, hiring Peter Freund to assist in transitioning Minor League Baseball’s offices to New York. 

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