MLB Nears Decision On 120 Full-Season Minor League Clubs For 2021
Major League Baseball’s talks with Minor League Baseball over the structure and economics of the minors for 2021 and beyond have reached their final stages.
MLB has informed minor league teams they will be notified around the first week of December if they are part of the 120 full-season affiliated teams that will comprise the reorganized minor leagues. Soon after notification, MLB will issue Professional Development Licenses to those 120 clubs.
Those notifications will not mean discussions over the future of the minors have been completed, but it will mean that are nearing an end. MLB is expected to present PDLs to each of the 120 minor league teams it selects. The minor league teams will then have to decide whether to sign them.
MLB will be presenting a contract—the Professional Development License—to individual owners. If an owner opts not to sign the PDL, MLB would likely move on to a team left out of the original 120 to fill the open slot.
The new dynamic will be nothing like previous Professional Baseball Agreement negotiations. In past PBA talks, MLB and MiLB have come to an agreement which was then been presented to owners on both sides for ratification.
The current discussions between MLB and MiLB’s negotiating committee could more accurately be described as feedback sessions. Minor league owners have been able to lay out objections and concerns about many of MLB’s proposed changes, and MLB has already modified its initial requirements about travel, scheduling, marketing and other aspects to some extent.
But the negotiations are not ending with the two sides reaching a mutual accord. They are wrapping up with one side planning to present offers to individual teams. Theoretically, there could be further negotiations between individual teams and MLB once those teams receive the licenses. A group of minor league teams could also band together to try to get changes to language in the license, but there is not going to be an agreed-upon contract that the two sides have worked out together.
At this point, the broad strokes of the structure of the minor league system are complete. MLB’s plan is to have 120 full-season minor league teams—a Triple-A, Double-A, high Class A and low class A affiliate for each of the 30 major league clubs—in addition to Rookie-level clubs at MLB teams’ Arizona, Florida and Dominican Republic complexes.
There will also be Partner Leagues. In addition to the agreements already reached with the previously independent American Association, Atlantic League and Frontier League, MLB is also planning to announce that the Pioneer League—one of the Rookie-level minor leagues set to be eliminated as an affiliated league under the new structure—will continue to play professional baseball as a Partner League. MLB is also having discussions with the Mexican League on becoming a Partner League.
MLB said these leagues provide opportunities for players that are not yet ready for affiliated ball, as well as second chances for players released from affiliated teams. They will also ensure baseball is present and marketed to communities not included among the 120 affiliated teams and will “provide a vehicle to give people with diverse backgrounds coaching and playing opportunities through formal MLB-sponsored programs.”
There will also be Draft Scouting Leagues, as Baseball America has previously reported. The Appalachian League has agreed to operate as a summer amateur wood-bat league for rising college freshmen and sophomores in conjunction with USA Baseball. Some New York-Penn League teams will be part of the MLB Draft League, a circuit operated in conjunction with Prep Baseball Report. That league will be designed for draft-eligible players to play and be scouted in advance of the July draft each year. There will also be a continuation of the Prospect Development Pipeline League—a developmental league for 80 of the top rising high school seniors in the country. It operated for the first time in 2019, but the 2020 PDP league was canceled due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
MLB’s memo to minor league teams reiterated that it “fulfills MLB’s commitment to maintaining baseball in every community in which it is currently played.”
MLB has also laid out that it plans to have two Triple-A Leagues, one in the eastern United States and one in the western U.S., which mimics the current format of the International and Pacific Coast leagues. There will be three Double-A leagues, one in the central U.S., another in the south and another in the northeast. That hews very closely to the structure of the current Texas, Southern and Eastern leagues.
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There will be three high Class A leagues, one in the mid-Atlantic, one in the midwest and one in the northwest. That is a major change from the current system. Many of the teams that comprise the low Class A Midwest League are expected to move to high Class A. Teams from the short-season Northwest League are expected to become high Class A teams. And the Mid-Atlantic League is expected to be filled with teams from both the Northeast (Brooklyn and Hudson Valley have already been announced by their MLB clubs) as well as teams from the Carolinas that played in the South Atlantic and Carolina leagues in the past.
At low Class A, there will be a league in California made up of teams that largely played in the high Class A California League, one in Florida filled with teams that had played in the high Class A Florida State League and one in the southeast populated largely by teams that played in the low Class A South Atlantic and high Class A Carolina leagues.