Doing the unthinkable: Minor League to accept cut to 120 teams
Downtown Fort Wayne, Ind., is seen from an empty Parkview Field on Wednesday, April 8, 2020. Mike Nutter is surrounded by questions everywhere he goes these days. So the longtime president of the Fort Wayne TinCaps is planning for every scenario he can imagine, one at a time. While Major League Baseball tries to figure out a way to play this summer, the prospects for anything resembling a normal minor league season are looking increasingly bleak. For minor league communities across the country, looking forward to cheap hot dogs, fuzzy mascot hugs and various theme nights, it's a small slice of a depressing picture. | Mike Moore/The Journal-Gazette via AP

This simple fact cannot be stressed enough: We are all living—surviving—in, well, “interesting” times. And for us fans of America’s national pastime, we’re quickly approaching the edge of strange; a point of no return in how the game is played.

Several ideas are being mulled over regarding how to kick out the 2020 season, all of them seemingly landing on the Arizona option: All 30 teams housed, and all games played in the Phoenix metro area. But that’s for the Major League and MB Players Union to sort out.

Right now, we’re going to focus on the Minor League.

Last year, as MLB and MiLB began negotiations over a new Professional Baseball Agreement, MLB proposed a plan to cut the Minors from 160 teams to 120 affiliated teams. Such a thing was unthinkable for MiLB and expressed in no uncertain terms.

But, much has changed in the last six months, and with the COVID-19 pandemic halting all sports, impacting teams’ viability with so much uncertainty, Baseball America first reported that multiple sources with knowledge of the negotiations say MiLB is prepared to accept MLB’s proposal to cut down the number of affiliated clubs. A decision impacting hundreds of players (non-union), prospects, and player development staff and expenses.

Sources spoke on a condition of anonymity as no announcement was authorized. Negotiations are scheduled to resume Wednesday via teleconference.

Cutting down teams is just one of the many radical overhaul possibilities proposed by MLB, including taking over all of the main duties of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues, the MiLB’s governing body, moving away from franchise affiliations and into licensing agreements—the same used by Holiday Inn and other hotel chains, eliminating short-season, and Rookie ball, and on and on it would go.

“There have been no agreements on contraction or any other issues,” the National Association said in a statement Tuesday, adding it “looks forward to continuing the good-faith negotiations with MLB tomorrow.”

MLB responded in kind saying it “looks forward to continuing our discussion about how we can jointly modernize player development and continue to have baseball in every community where it’s currently played.”

Under MLB’s current proposal, each franchise team would have four full-season farm teams, a rookie club, and prospects in the Dominican Summer League, while some franchises would cut their U.S.-based affiliates from seven to five.

Six months ago, the National Association waged a PR war against the proposal going as far as lobbying Congress to stop such a move. But, just as the coronavirus saps one’s health, it sapped the willingness to fight on, survival became the key—so many players, front office staffers have already been furloughed to clot the economic bleeding.

And without big-name broadcasting agreements, the minors don’t seem to have the option of playing a season with an empty ballpark, like the big league, and are even less likely to have a 2020 season.

There are many details still needing to be worked out, but MiLB owners have expressed their main want out of the talks is long-term security for their teams, players, and staff.

Either way, at least MLB agreed to raise the pay of minor leaguers, ahead of any signed agreement with the minors.

Only time, and coronavirus, well tell how these upcoming negotiations will shake out.


Al Neal
Al Neal

Award winning journalist Al Neal is PW associate editor for labor and politics. He is also the chief photographer for People's World. He is a member of the Chicago News Guild, Society of Professional Journalists, Professional Photographers of America, National Sports Media Association, and The Ernest Brooks Foundation.