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MLB's Hiring Of Peter Freund To Assist In Minor League Takeover Surprises Many

Major League Baseball announced on Oct. 7 that Peter Freund and his Trinity Sports Consulting company have been hired to work directly with MLB as it takes over the operations of Minor League Baseball.

The move came as a surprise to many in MiLB, where it was hard to find anyone who knew it was coming.

Freund is the principal owner of the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds and short-season Williamsport Crosscutters as well as a co-owner of the low Class A Charleston RiverDogs. He also is a minority owner of the New York Yankees.

Multiple MiLB owners said Freund is well respected around the minors, and his ownership of teams at multiple levels gives him perspective on the various issues affecting different levels of the game. MLB hiring a MiLB owner was seen by some as a positive sign that MLB could work in the best interests of both itself and the remaining 120 MiLB clubs moving forward.

“I’m a huge Peter Freund fan. He’s terrific. He’s involved in a lot of leagues. I think he will be  a great addition to the MLB team,” said D.G. Elmore, head of MiLB’s negotiating committee.

What this hiring means for the long-running negotiations between MLB and MiLB is much less clear. There is no indication that this is part of any significant shift in MLB’s approach to the negotiations.

For months, there has been speculation that MLB might simply break off negotiations with MiLB at some point after the expiration of the current Professional Baseball Agreement and set up its own system. But there has been no indication of that happening, and talks between MLB and MiLB’s negotiating team have continued.

MLB did release a statement on Oct. 1 after the PBA between MLB and MiLB expired in which it noted that it would work with Minor League owners. That was significant because it signaled that MLB was done negotiating with the corporate entity of MiLB and would work with MiLB owners directly on a new system.

But that was only confirming something that had largely already happened. MiLB president Pat O’Conner had already announced that he was retiring, and he indicated in an interview with The Athletic’s Evan Drellich that he stepped down.

The release said that Freund will “work directly with MLB and the owners of its licensed affiliates as Minor League Baseball’s offices transition to New York.”

While there is no official agreement transferring MiLB’s responsibilities for the operations of the minors, it has long been considered a fait accompli, and this release seems to be further evidence of something that was long expected.

It is likely that we are still far away from any final agreement on the exact details of the structure of the minors for 2021 and beyond, even if everyone involved expects it will largely follow the broad strokes of MLB’s proposal that included Professional Development Licenses replacing affiliation agreements, MLB taking over marketing and sales and realigning the minors to have 120 full-season clubs.

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It is unlikely that MLB will cause elected officials any issues by announcing its full slate of 120 licensed clubs in the days and weeks before the election on Nov. 3.

It is more likely that the list of 120 teams may be inferred before it is announced. MLB has already announced the Appalachian League’s 10 clubs have agreed to be part of a summer amateur wood bat league for 2021 and beyond.

MLB is believed to be continuing to talk to the Pioneer League and teams in the Northeast (primarily New York-Penn League teams) in attempts to develop agreeable non-affiliated solutions for those teams as well. If such plans can be agreed to, MLB could announce the future plans for the vast majority of teams left out of the 120.

Doing so would provide a public relations benefit for MLB, as instead of speculation about the future of the teams left out of MLB’s plans, those questions would be answered first, shifting focus away from the 120 clubs that will remain in affiliated ball.

“As we look to grow the partnership between Major League Baseball and its licensed affiliates and share our resources, it has always been our intention to have Minor League ownership partner with us in shaping the future of Minor League Baseball,” MLB deputy commissioner Dan Halem said in MLB’s release. “Peter’s reputation and experience in the industry make him exceptionally well suited to assist us in transitioning to a Minor League system that will better serve Minor League fans, Minor League players, Minor League owners, and our Major League Clubs.”

“Minor League Baseball is part of the fabric of so many communities and integral to the development of both players and fans of this great game,” Freund said in the statement. “This truly is a watershed moment for professional baseball and we have a unique opportunity to find common sense solutions which benefit both Major League Clubs and their Minor League partners.”

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