MLB’s Decision On 120 MiLB Teams For 2021 Is Imminent

Image credit: Rob Manfred (Photo by Mary DeCicco/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

You’ve done the research. You’ve run the numbers and decided you’re ready to look for a new house.

You’re looking for four bedrooms and two and a half baths for your family. You picked out some neighborhoods and school districts you like. You like the color blue, if possible, and prefer an open floor plan. You’d love to have a nice backyard and a porch.

And then your realtor emails. She has found a house in one of the neighborhoods where you wanted to live.

The other details are not in the email. You don’t know how many bedrooms it has. You don’t have details on the floor plan or the color of the house.

Because your realtor knows what you’ve been looking for, you’re going to want to go look at that house. But you aren’t going to tell your realtor to buy the house sight unseen. You’re going to want more details. If those check out, you’re going to want to get the house inspected. And more importantly, you need to know the price of the house.

Wednesday, Dec. 9, can be described as the day that Minor League Baseball teams will get the email that their realtor has found a house. Unless there is a last-minute delay, Major League Baseball is expected to officially invite 120 minor league clubs to join its MLB-designed minor league system. 

But just like most people wouldn’t buy a house without walking around it and finding out how much it costs, most minot league teams will not really have anything to agree to yet once they receive their invitation.

The actual Professional Development Licenses (PDLs) that will govern the agreement between MLB and minor league teams have not yet been sent and will not come with the invitations. They are expected to be distributed in the next couple of weeks. The licenses and likely many appendices will spell out all the details on travel, sponsorships, costs, facilities, length of terms and franchise valuations. That will be vital to minor league teams making decisions whether they sign a PDL, attempt to negotiate to change some terms, or decline.

The analogy above is not a perfect one. A house buyer can always pass on a house and wait for the next option to hit the market. For minor league teams, there is a chance to be one of the 120 affiliated teams or a trip into a world—independent baseball—that they have never been a part of before.

But it does illustrate what the invitation day is about. Until those licenses are received, any team that announces it is accepting an invitation to join MLB’s system is doing so without knowing what’s included in the license agreement.

There likely will be teams that accept sight unseen. A significant number of minor league teams are owned by MLB clubs—close to 40 teams expected to be invited are either wholly or partially owned by MLB teams.

For them, it may be easy to accept the terms, because they are part of the group that guides MLB’s league office in New York. There are other teams on the bubble that, upon finding out they are invited to join the 120 affiliated clubs, may simply accept to ensure that they have locked in their place.

But expect Wednesday to more commonly hear announcements from minor league teams that will signify they are excited to have received an invitation, but they haven’t yet signed a license because they have yet to receive a license to peruse and potentially sign.

Minor league teams are expected to also receive nondisclosure agreements, and they will have to waive the right to sue MLB as part of agreeing to a license.

The timetable for how long it will take to get from the invitations to the final announcements over the structure of the minors and schedules for 2021 is not certain. MLB sent a memo to its 30 organizations telling them that once MLB gives the all-clear, each MLB team will be allowed to announce which minor league teams it is selecting as its four affiliates and the level of play at which each will be slated to play.

But MLB is not intending to make any public announcement about the league structure or any other details until it has all 120 signed PDLs. The MLB memo says it does not anticipate that announcement coming until late January or early February.

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