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The Baseball Winter Meetings will officially begin on Sunday, but what looks to be a very busy week is actually starting a couple of days early.
Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball are scheduled to meet for another negotiating session on Friday. After a meeting last month to set the stage for this meeting the two sides are expected to exchange new proposals and attempt to find some common ground in a Professional Baseball Agreement negotiation that so far has shown that the two sides are far from a deal.
But that’s not the only items on the schedule for the Winter Meetings. On Tuesday Dec. 10, MiLB will elect a president. Current president Pat O’Conner is expected to be easily elected, as he is currently running unopposed.
There will be the standard league and farm director meetings where travel and other issues are discussed. But the biggest remaining item on the to-do list for MiLB is finding a home for the Florida State League’s Florida Fire Frogs for 2020.
From 2017-2019, the Braves high Class A affiliate played in Kissimmee, Fla., at the site of the Astros old spring training home. That is not an option for 2020, as Osceola County Stadium has been converted to be a soccer stadium.
As the winter meetings get set to begin, the Fire Frogs have yet to find a new home.
“We’d have liked to have done it by now. Hopefully something will come up at the Winter Meetings. It’s a lot easier to discuss stuff like that face to face,” FSL president Ken Carson.
Ideally, the team would move to the Braves brand new North Port facility where the club’s MLB team will train during spring training and where its extended spring training and Gulf Coast league teams will be housed and train.
But North Port is just six miles from the Charlotte Stone Crabs park, which means it is squarely within the Stone Crabs territory. So to play there, the Fire Frogs owners would have to get an agreement with the Stone Crabs ownership to waive the territorial rights. As of now, that has not happened.
The other option is for the Fire Frogs to find another facility somewhere in Florida that is outside of the territorial rights of any current Florida State League club. There are a few former spring training facilities available–Space Coast Stadium in Melbourne for example–but none are an ideal fit, and attendance, much like it was in Kissimmee, would likely be minimal.
There is the possibility that the Braves could purchase the franchise rights from the current ownership group, and then negotiate the territorial rights, but that hasn’t happened yet. There’s also the potential option for the Braves to play in North Port but not charge admission, which may be a way to work around the territorial rights issues.
All of these avenues have been available for months, but so far the number of involved parties has meant that everyone seems to be waiting for someone else to budge. As the Winter Meetings arrive, the Florida State League does not know where the Fire Frogs will be playing in 2020. They don’t want to enter 2020 with that uncertainty hanging over everyone’s head.