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Less minors = more money?

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Baseball America breaks some big developments on the farm

Boys Trying to Catch Softball
Twisted thinking: MLB wants fewer teams in the farm system ... but they’re gonna pay the remaining players more, right?

The fabulous J.J. Cooper at Baseball America broke a huge story on Friday, and there are even more details than the foreboding headline suggests: MLB Proposal Would Eliminate 42 Minor League Teams.

With the affiliation agreement between major league baseball and the minors due to expire in 2020, MLB has proposed a radical restructuring of the minors, ultimately reducing the number of teams and putting thousands of minor leaguers out of work.

From MLB’s perspective, it wants every minor league facility to be up to a minimum standard for its minor leaguers, and the estimate is that about a quarter of teams are not meeting that standard. Broadly speaking, those teams that are not up to snuff will be among the 40 or so teams left out in the cold after a restructuring.

MLB is also looking to better centralize the minor leagues, to the degree that teams may be shuffled down from Triple-A to Single-A, and vice-versa.

It’s by no means the lede of the story, but among the reasons for the revamping, according to MLB deputy commissioner Dan Halem, is improving minor-league pay and travel. MLB has had years, decades, even, to remedy the minimum wage-or-less pay of MiLB’s lower ranks, so that’s one we’ll have to see before we believe. (The expectation is that pay will increase 50% for the remaining minor league players and coaches.)

By no means is it a done deal, MLB succeeding in taking affiliated teams out of 40 or more cities; while negotiations between MLB and MiLB are generally smooth, there’s no question that the minor leagues are happy with things as they are and would not take kindly to losing a quarter of its member teams.

No matter what the final decisions are, it seems clear that there will be some affiliate restructuring, so that the days of having a Triple-A team on the West Coast and two Single-A clubs in the east may be over. The parent team contracts each affiliate has with MLB teams will almost definitely be longer than two-year terms that is the current frame.

This sort of geographical tweaking will leave the White Sox perhaps completely unaffected, given all of its affiliates from Single-A on up are concentrated in the Southeast. However, as the proposal eliminates non team-owned rookie league teams, the Great Falls Voyagers would no longer be a White Sox affiliate — at least as a member of the Pioneer League — leaving all rookie league play to Arizona (the Dominican Republic, with so many players younger than draft age, appears also to remain intact in this proposal).

The geographic restructuring would have an odd effect on the Charlotte Knights, as MLB proposes to increase the International League to a whopping 20 teams.

One effect of an overall reduction in affiliated minor league teams is that the current “wild west” of independent ball (e.g. the Chicago Dogs) would see an influx of players and teams, and likely revenue.

Cooper also reports that the 42 teams left out in the cold by a restructuring would form a “Dream League” for undrafted players — essentially independent ball on steroids.

And with just four full-season minor league teams plus a rookie team at the training complex (for the White Sox, Arizona), teams will have just 150 players under contract in the minors.

Cooper gives the New York Yankees as a team that would be dramatically affected by the changes, given their eight U.S. affiliates adding up to 285 players — the Yankees would need to cut 135 players free, into the Dream League or other independent ball.

Consolidating two short-season rookie leagues (for the White Sox, Great Falls and Arizona) into one will likely mean that all drafted players will merely head to instructs, and not play in official games in their draft year.

The draft is likely to be bumped to a little later in the summer, after the College World Series.


A lot of information is being reported today, all coming from J.J.’s groundbreaking piece at Baseball America. Please consider clicking on the full story, linked above, to give Baseball America some love.