MLB, MiLB Expected To Return To Negotiating Table Soon
Today (July 22) marks three months since Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball negotiators last sat down together to work on coming to an agreement on the structure/organization of the minor leagues in 2021 and beyond.
A lot has happened in baseball since that last meeting. After many negotiations, MLB finalized a plan for the major leagues to return to action. The 60-game MLB season is slated to begin on July 23. And since that meeting, the 2020 MiLB season has officially been canceled. When MiLB announced the cancellation, its press release didn’t include mention of the coronavirus pandemic, instead describing it as a decision made after MLB informed MiLB that it will not be providing players.
Since then, many MiLB teams across the country have gone into survival mode relying on their creativity to figure out ways to generate some revenue during what now shapes up to be a 17-month gap between the end of the 2019 season and the start of the 2021 season. Some MiLB stadiums are now serving as alternative site training facilities for MLB teams.
There are many issues that remain to be negotiated and resolved when the two sides meet, which is expected to happen not long after the MLB season gets going. But the biggest question across the minors right now is simple: Who is on (and off) the list of 120 teams that will be in affiliated ball in 2021 and beyond?
There are many other questions that need to be answered, but all of those follow that first, vital question. MiLB teams are expecting, as they have for some time, a list of the 120 full-season affiliated teams from MLB. There may be some back-and-forth negotiating about that list, but considering that MLB has consulted with all 30 MLB teams in building its proposed 120-team list and the complicated interlocking nature of each move, there won’t be a lot of room for negotiation.
MLB polled its 30 clubs for their feedback a while ago, but it appears that there have been continuing discussions as MLB teams try to figure out their best fits. It is expected that in MLB’s proposal, the current Player Development Contract system, which requires MiLB teams and MLB clubs to re-up affiliation agreements every two years, will be replaced with a much longer-term system. MLB has consistently put an emphasis on rationalizing affiliations, in part, around geographical considerations, although in some cases MLB teams seem more focused on the quality of the stadium/city/team management.
It is safe to say that some teams that were off last year's initial public list of 120 teams are now on. It is equally safe to say that others who appeared to be in MLB’s initial proposals are no longer on the list of 120. Baseball America has heard many permutations, but since the names of teams that are “safe” and those that are no longer on the list keep changing, any list for now remains highly speculative until MLB unveils it to the MiLB negotiating committee.
There is a chance that the proposal may come with a significant new twist. Multiple MLB personnel said they have heard MLB is strongly considering the possibility of flipping high Class A and low Class A leagues.
If it did so, the Florida State League, California League and Carolina League would be the low Class A leagues moving forward, while the Northwest, Midwest and South Atlantic leagues would constitute high Class A. There is a possibility that there would be four high Class A leagues in this iteration with a smaller South Atlantic League and a six-team Mid-Atlantic League as well.
Such a move could make significant logistical sense. Teams could promote/demote players from a low Class A team in the Florida State League by simply moving them from one clubhouse to another. Such a move would also provide an easier transition as players would remain at their complexes while still getting their first taste of full-season ball.
The warmer weather climate of all three low Class A leagues in this plan would also allow players from Latin American countries to adjust to their first season of full-season ball without it also being their first exposure to the bracing cold that often is part of the Midwest League and now potentially the Northwest League in April.
While MLB has considered flipping the Class A leagues, that could open the door for a potential compromise option that has been floated by some MiLB clubs to keep more teams afloat than the proposed 120.
In this plan, the Florida State League could play the first half of the season in Florida and then head to the cities of the existing New York-Penn League sites for the second half of the season.
FSL clubs aren’t generally big draws overall, but getting fans to games gets even tougher in the second half of the season. By that point many snowbirds have headed back North. Also, the weather gets hot and more humid with regular thunderstorms during the afternoons. In such a scenario, the NY-P would get close to the same number of games as it currently get as a short-season league while the FSL would jettison the worst-performing time of its season.
A similar case could be made with Arizona complexes and the Northwest League. Baseball America has learned that there are Northwest League teams that are not sure if they want to switch to full-season ball. A similar plan could conceivably be laid out where teams could play at their complexes in Arizona from April through mid-June and then head to the Northwest League.
There are plenty of logistical hurdles and potentially some added costs to such a plan, as teams would still be maintaining their Florida complexes for Gulf Coast League games while now sending a team to another site halfway through the season. As such, there are zero guarantees that such a plan would happen, but it is yet another interesting wrinkle in what has already been a wild summer.