Cutting 40 minor league teams appeared impossible, unthinkable and unpalatable. Now, it might only be the beginning.
Minor League Baseball is willing to agree to Major League Baseball’s proposed downsizing from 160 affiliates down to 120, including the elimination of Rookie and Short-Season ball, when it re-enters negotiations over the next Professional Baseball Agreement.
Cutting a quarter of minor league teams would be the minors’ new starting point in negotiations between the two parties, per Baseball America’s sources.
MiLB called their rumored concession “largely inaccurate” in a statement released Tuesday.
“There have been no agreements on contraction or any other issues,” the statement read. “MiLB looks forward to continuing the good faith negotiations with MLB tomorrow as we work toward an agreement that best ensures the future of professional baseball throughout the United States and Canada.”
If Baseball America’s characterization of MiLB’s position is correct, it would be a major about face from MiLB’s previous position on MLB’s early proposal, which also included pay increases and facility upgrades for minor league ballplayers. Minor League commissioner Pat O’Conner openly disputed their changes, described the downsizing as a “death sentence.”
“This is not strictly about facilities and player health and wellness,” O’Conner said in an October interview. “I think it’s a matter of them wanting to exert more control over the minor leagues.”
MiLB’s efforts had attracted Congress’ attention, summoning a bipartisan “Save Minor League Baseball” taskforce plainly sympathetic to their interests. Former presidential candidates Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren had also expressed their public frustrations of MLB’s cutdown.
But, their tact also drew MLB commissioner Rob Manfred’s ire.
“When people publicly attack a long-time partner after they’ve committed to confidentiality in the negotiating process, usually people don’t feel so good about that,” Manfred said regarding the war of words during the 2019 Winter Meetings.
Now, MiLB’s leverage is thought to be as depleted as their finances thanks to the coronavirus’ spread, leading them to yield to MLB’s desire for a consolidated minor league system with four affiliates increased control over minor league operations.
Meanwhile, MLB has already stripped down the 2020 and 2021 drafts as part of their coronavirus contingency plan with the MLB Players Association, likely decreasing down the next wave of minor league talent.