Of the many wonderful storylines that have unfolded around baseball this offseason, one of the most important won’t even be seen at the major league level — in 2020, at least. A proposal to cut ties with 42 minor league teams across the country in favor of “making the minor leagues more efficient” and “cutting down on travel” has two Detroit Tigers affiliates in its crosshairs: the Double-A Erie SeaWolves and short-season Connecticut Tigers.
First, some background information. The above proposal is part of the negotiations between Major League Baseball and minor league teams for the Professional Baseball Agreement, a CBA of sorts between the major and minor league teams. Their current agreement expires after the 2020 season, after which Major League Baseball seems determined to make drastic changes.
As Baseball America notes, those negotiations could get a little messy.
The MLB proposal is just one idea at the start of what will likely be a lengthy negotiation, but the two sides are further apart than they have been in any PBA negotiation since 1990. At the core of the negotiations, MLB is looking to dramatically improve Minor League Baseball’s stadium facilities as well as take control over how the minor leagues are organized as far as affiliations and the geography of leagues. Those areas have been under the control of MiLB for the past 100-plus years and would lead to a dramatic restructuring of how MiLB is governed and operates.
If the proposal carries, the teams themselves will not immediately be folded. They can still exist, and “would be welcome to join a lower-quality Dream League populated largely by undrafted and released players.” However, as one official put it in the New York Times, this would be a “death sentence” for the minor league clubs. The Tigers and SeaWolves, along with many of the other 40 teams on the list, would be hard-pressed to stay afloat financially without the support of their major league affiliate.
The New York Daily News went further into how this proposal could negatively impact minor league teams and owners.
Meanwhile, the repercussions from this contraction plan are going to be enormous. Not just for the minor league communities, most of which are the grass roots of baseball, but for MLB itself which, conceivably will be hit with an avalanche of lawsuits from communities that have built new ballparks on taxpayers’ money, all of which would figure to threaten their long-cherished anti-trust exemption. It’s been estimated that $300 million in equity will be lost by the minor league owners whose teams are being eliminated.
While there are a few small improvements to be found here — paying remaining players more money is nice, as would be moving the draft further away from the high school and college seasons — the majority of these proposed changes are extremely slanted towards the interests of MLB owners. Not only would it cut costs for the MLB clubs themselves by reducing the number of prospects they have to pay, but they also want to change how contracts (PDC) between major and minor league affiliates are constructed.
MLB also wants to completely rework the PDC process to ensure MLB clubs can have MiLB affiliates that meet their desires geographically. To do so, they want to eliminate the current two-year PDC process and replace it with much longer-lasting MLB-MiLB franchise agreements. Doing so would give the MLB clubs much more certainty, but it would also eliminate the negotiating leverage MiLB teams currently have every two years.
Overall, these proposed changes seem like a bad look for everyone that doesn’t own a Major League Baseball team. Not only would there be fewer roster spots available across minor league baseball — meaning fewer chances for players to reach the majors — but the many communities that support and even thrive on their minor league baseball teams would be negatively effected in a number of ways that Major League Baseball seems to have ignored in their quest to maximize profits above all other interests.