MiLB Replaces Negotiating Team For MLB Talks
A long, winding and contentious negotiation between Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball took another surprising and dramatic turn Monday.
Numerous MiLB owners told Baseball America that Minor League Baseball disbanded its negotiating team and replaced it with a group seen as more closely aligned with MiLB President and Chief Executive Officer Pat O’Conner.
The move comes just 58 days before the current Professional Baseball Agreement expires on Sept. 30.
The PBA is the agreement through which MLB and MiLB work together. MLB teams agree to provide and pay players and coaches for MiLB teams, while MiLB clubs agree to meet required field and facilities standards to provide a place for minor leaguers to play.
Last year, MLB proposed cutting the number of affiliated, ticket-selling teams from 160 to 120. Such a proposal would leave each MLB team with four full-season affiliates as well as teams at their Florida and Arizona spring training complexes, which are not part of the National Association and do not sell tickets.
MiLB’s negotiating committee, composed of a number of MiLB owners, was appointed by MiLB President Pat O’Conner and served at his direction. The group that was disbanded Monday was viewed by many to be more focused on the interests of MiLB owners rather than those of O’Conner and MiLB’s offices.
As Baseball America reported in April, the negotiating group previously signaled it was willing to consider MLB taking over the operations and governance of the affiliated minor leagues as part of a larger deal, as long as minor league teams had long-term contracts and provisions protecting franchise values. MLB promised it would be able to run the minors with fewer expenses and produce more revenues for minor league teams than the current system.
A number of MiLB owners indicated to Baseball America they were receptive to such a deal, although the guarantees and final details of such a proposal would be key to final acceptance. In such a system, the current Player Development Contracts, which usually last two years, would be replaced by longer-term license agreements. Under such structure, there was expected to be an independent arbitrator to resolve disputes between franchisees (MiLB owners) and franchisors (MLB).
Such a proposal would lead to the disbanding of the Minor League Baseball offices in St. Petersburg, Fla. and the elimination of Pat O’Conner’s role as CEO and President.
The new negotiating group, which includes MiLB Board of Trustees Chairman Ken Schnacke and Sam Bernabe, the preceding Chairman, is viewed by numerous minor league owners as having closer ties to O’Conner and being more sympathetic to attempts to save St. Petersburg’s MiLB offices and MiLB’s independence.
Numerous owners said the new MiLB negotiating team is preparing a proposal to present to MLB. It is expected to meet many of MLB’s desires to restructure the minors, including the proposed cut to 120 teams as MLB has requested and a realignment of the minor leagues. The expected difference is that it will also propose that Minor League Baseball retains some independence with a smaller office in St. Petersburg.
It is not entirely certain whether O’Conner would remain in power in such a proposal.
That may be an important aspect of the proposal. Numerous people with knowledge of the negotiations have said MLB has clearly indicated that it does not want to deal with O’Conner going forward. MLB has also indicated, on multiple occasions, its frustration with MiLB’s current form of governance.
The negotiating committee and MLB’s negotiators had not met officially since April 22, but behind the scenes multiple sources describe progress as being made on many of the most contentious issues.
MLB had said on multiple occasions that its attempts to return to the negotiating table had been delayed by work ensuring the 2020 MLB season got off the ground. MLB reached out to MiLB on Monday about scheduling a their meeting before being informed that MiLB has a new negotiating team.
A number of MiLB owners have long said they feared O’Conner might try to disrupt negotiations if they were headed toward an agreement that would result in MLB taking over governance of the minors, which would result in the elimination of Minor League Baseball office’s role.
At this point, there is a core internal disagreement that MiLB owners and offices have to resolve. There are MiLB owners who view maintaining independence from MLB as important, but there are many others who are quite willing to have MLB take over running the minors as long as their concerns about franchise valuations and long-term security are met. Other MiLB owners prefer an MLB-run minor leagues to the current system.
Where this goes from here is unclear.
MLB has to respond and indicate whether it is willing to accept renegotiating over governance after spending significant time fleshing out the details for an MLB-run minor league system. There are some indications that this switch will not be particularly well received at MLB, as it will be the third different MiLB negotiating team it has been asked to work with in the past year.
MLB has previously indicated it has issues with MiLB’s running of the minor leagues and that it would prefer something closer to a franchisor-franchisee relationship.
This also could lead to a public fight over who controls the negotiations on MiLB’s side. A number of MiLB owners and MiLB’s office in St. Petersburg have differing core desires on what needs to be in a new agreement. Multiple MiLB owners said Monday that they could foresee this decision leading to a potential vote of no-confidence in O’Conner, although the outcome of such a vote is much less certain. MiLB votes on ratification of a new agreement are weighted with upper-level minor league teams receiving more votes than their lower-level counterparts, which could affect any such vote.
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This shift in the negotiations is seen as having more favor among Triple-A teams than those at the Class A levels and below. As such, it may further fracture pre-existing divisions between upper- and lower-level clubs.
The addition of a new negotiating team less than two months before the current Professional Baseball Agreement expires led multiple MiLB owners to predict MLB will now be more likely to let the PBA expire and simply create their own minor league system going forward.
In 1990, the PBA negotiations ended up being resolved after the expiration of the then-current deal, so there is precedent for negotiations to go beyond that soft deadline. But it does create additional uncertainty, especially at the lower levels of the minors, where teams would be less certain of a spot in the affiliated minors if MLB decides to leave MiLB behind and create its own developmental system.
There is also some who worry that if MLB creates its own system, the currently promised 120 minor league teams could be reduced to 90, leaving many more MiLB franchises outside of the MLB-run system.