Manfred: Negotiations With MiLB A “Tale of Two Cities”

SAN DIEGO—Commissioner Rob Manfred characterized negotiations with Minor League Baseball on proposed reorganization as a “Tale of Two Cities” at the Winter Meetings on Wednesday, saying relations had warmed between the negotiating committees while also blaming MiLB leadership for “damage” done to the relationship between MLB and MiLB.

“I think between the negotiating committees, the dialogue has gotten a little more positive in the most recent set of meetings,” Manfred said. “I think, in contrast, some of the activities that have been undertaken by the leadership of Minor League Baseball have been polarizing in terms of the relationship with the owners.

“I think they’ve done damage to the relationship with Major League Baseball, and I’m hopeful that we will be able to work through that damage in the negotiating room and reach a new agreement. When people publicly attack a long-time partner after they’ve committed to confidentiality in the negotiating process, usually people don’t feel so good about that.”

Baseball America reported in October that MLB had proposed removing the affiliations of 42 minor league teams and reducing the number of total affiliated teams to 120. The New York Times first reported the list of teams set to lose their affiliations.

Manfred characterized that reported proposal as preliminary, and said negotiations were ongoing regarding both the structure and makeup of the minor leagues.

“This has been portrayed as a decision that has been made,” Manfred said. “The fact of the matter is at the point in time this became public, we had precisely three negotiating sessions. It is by no means a fait accompli as to what the agreement is going to look like.

“Major League Baseball has been and will remain flexible in its negotiating position. I hope that Minor League Baseball, which has taken the position that they’re not willing to discuss anything but the status quo or any changes that would provide for upgrades in adequate facilities, better working conditions for our players. That they move off the take-it-or-leave-it status quo approach and come to the table and try to make a deal.”

Manfred further addressed criticisms that the proposed reorganization takes baseball away from cities that have supported their local minor league team, and that doing so would ultimately harm baseball’s long-term fan interest.

While 22 of the reported 42 teams set to lose their affiliations finished in the bottom 25 percent of the minor leagues in attendance in 2019, many others reported strong attendance figures among the best in their leagues and for their levels, such as Frederick (4,392 fans per game in 2019), Lexington (4,094), Ogden (3,951), Colorado Springs/Rocky Mountain (3,923), Chattanooga (3,518), Erie (3,315), Lowell (3,051), State College (3,291) and Binghamton (3,000).

Asked if MLB appreciates the role the minor leagues play as a conduit for fans to professional baseball, Manfred responded:

“I think that the answer to that question is yes. That’s why we subsidize, to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars every single year, the operations of Minor League Baseball. Having said that, our players deserve to play in facilities that are up to grade. They deserve to have reasonable travel limitations. They deserve to be paid fairly.

“Given that we are already subsidizing at the level that I’ve previously referred to, I think it is unreasonable (for MiLB) to come to a bargaining table and say, ‘Yeah, we got some facilities. We know they’re substandard. In fact, they may not be fixable, but we’re not willing to do anything about that.’ That’s unreasonable.”

Manfred also addressed criticism that MLB was seeking to reduced the number of affiliated clubs—and thus the number of affiliated minor leaguers—so clubs could pay their remaining minor leaguers more without adding expenses to their bottom line.

“Obviously there is a way to pay people more without reducing the number of franchises,” Manfred said. “I think the question there becomes who should bear all of the costs associated with the player-related improvements that we think need to be made in the minor league system.”

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