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Examining Minor league baseball’s new structure

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Here are the big winners and losers after minor league restructuring

MiLB: JUL 30 Louisville Bats at Toledo Mud Hens Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Minor League Baseball (MiLB), as an entity, has ceased to exist. Their offices in St Petersburg, Florida, no longer control operations for some 160 minor league teams in over a dozen leagues across the United States. In it’s place, Major League Baseball (MLB) Commissioner Rob Manfred’s “One Baseball” plan has completed what can be described as a hostile takeover of eleven minor leagues, covering 120 teams, and severing formal affiliations with three short-season rookie leagues.

The 120 MiLB teams that were selected to remain affiliated have signed Professional Development Licenses (PDL’s) that were given to them by MLB. They were mainly dictated by MLB, although MiLB clubs had an opportunity to provide feedback. The one sided nature of the agreements doesn’t necessarily mean the remaining MiLB teams won’t be happier with their new arrangements, however.

Peter Woodfork will be the “primary point person for affiliated teams on all issues related to governance, scheduling, umpiring, license compliance, and other league administration functions.” These functions were formerly performed by the MiLB office and the various league offices.

43 minor league teams that were previously affiliated with MLB have lost their affiliated status. 31 of those teams were members of three short season rookie leagues, and another twelve were members of a league that will remain affiliated. The players and coaches formerly supplied and paid by MLB clubs will no longer be provided to the 43 teams.

It may take several seasons before we will know whether the overhaul is good or bad for each individual team, or for MiLB teams as a whole.

Major Changes

  • MiLB offices and eleven minor league offices are going out of business as MLB takes control
  • League names may change, as MLB does not own the naming rights. For now, the leagues will be called “Triple-A East”, “Triple- A West”, etc
  • Ten year Professional Development Licenses (PDL’s) will replace the standard two year contracts that affiliates signed in the past. This is supposed to provide stability to host towns and MiLB franchise owners. Whether MiLB teams would receive compensation after the PDL’s expire if they’re cut loose is unknown.
  • 43 MiLB teams will lose official affiliation with MLB, including 12 teams that were in A or AA leagues.
  • Short season rookie leagues are a thing of the past.
  • Two former rookie leagues, the Pioneer and Appalachian leagues, will become “partner leagues” with some information sharing benefits with MLB.
  • The Northwest league will be converted to a full season High A level league.
  • The New York- Penn league is dissolved, with three teams making the list of 120 affiliates, four others joining a new “MLB draft league”, and seven others will find a new league or shut down
  • 17 teams are left out in the cold with no definite plans. Seven of them are probably shutting down. 10 would like to continue.
  • Triple-A teams will play 144 games and start their season in April, Double-A will play 138 games and Class A teams will play 132, beginning their seasons in May.
  • The MLB amateur draft will be reduced from 40 to either 20 or 30 rounds, and will take place during the All-Star weekend in July.
  • Minor league pay is increasing for affiliated minor league players, but will no longer pay salaries for unaffiliated minor league players
  • Geographically more friendly affiliated leagues are being formed, although not nearly as logical as they could be, as most teams chose to stick with current affiliation agreements
  • MLB requires upgraded facilities, clubhouses, lighting, and travel arrangements for MiLB affiliates, phased in over a few seasons

The Winners

  • The Northwest league will take six of their eight teams and convert from a short season rookie league to a High A full season league, affiliating mainly with western teams.
  • The Midwest league’s twelve teams will be promoted from low-A to high-A ball. Three teams won’t make the switch, and Bowling Green will switch to the new east coast league.
  • Three formerly independent league teams have new MLB affiliates

- The St Paul Saints,, will be the new Triple-A affiliate of the Minnesota Twins

- The Sugar Land Skeeters will be the new triple-A affiliate of the Houston Astros

- The Somerset Patriots are the new Double-A affiliate of the New York Yankees

  • Three New York- Penn league teams are being promoted to affiliated leagues. Brooklyn, Aberdeen and Hudson Valley will become full season High A level teams.
  • Minor league players who are assigned to an MLB affilated team will benefit from higher pay and upgraded facilities, as required by the new MLB terms for MiLB affiliates.

The Biggest Losers

  • The Kane County Cougars, formerly of the Midwest league are getting hosed in this deal. The team ranked 37th of the 160 affiliates in attendance in 2019, but have no MLB affiliate
  • The Trenton Thunder were an Eastern league affiliate of the Yankees who ranked 36th, but are getting the ax in favor of Somerset. There is no justice!
  • The Frederick Keys ranked 56th, led the Carolina league in attendance, but are cut loose by the Baltimore Orioles, even as Aberdeen (85th) gets promoted. They will instead join the MLB draft league.
  • The Jackson Generals were in the double-A Southern league, but struggled at the gate, ranking 130th in attendance. They’re no longer affiliated.
  • The Burlington Bees and the Clinton Lumber Kings, two Iowa based Midwest league clubs, ranked last in the league in attendance and did not make the cut.
  • The Florida Fire Frogs (159th of 160) and Charlotte Stone Crabs (136th) are two Florida State league teams that missed the cut
  • The Fresno Grizzlies were the Triple A affiliate of the Washington Nationals, drawing 5,677 fans per game, ranked 27th in all of MiLB. They’re now a low A team in the California league.
  • The Lancaster JetHawks (127th) lost their place in the California league to Fresno, and will probably be shut down
  • Four former NY- Penn league clubs will probably shut down. The Auburn Doubledays, Lowell Spinners, and Batavia Muck Dogs, as well as the Staten Island Yankees, who are suing their former parent club in New York.
  • Three NY- Penn league teams hope to continue, including the Norwich Sea Unicorns, formerly the Connecticut Tigers. The Vermont Sea Monsters and Tri-City Valley Cats are in the same boat.
  • Three South Atlantic League clubs are unaffiliated: The Lexington Legends, Hagerstown Suns, and West Virginia Power didn’t get an invitation.
  • The Salem-Keizer Volcanoes were part of the Northwest league, but will not be joining the six clubs from that league that are converting to High-A. Instead, they are forming their own “Maverick league” of four teams in Salem. The Boise Hawks will jump to the Pioneer league.

“Partner Leagues”

Two former rookie leagues will become “Partner leagues”. The Appalachian League consisted of ten short season rookie league teams owned by MLB clubs. They will convert to a summer wood bat league for college underclassmen. The players will not be paid as they must maintain amateur status.

The Pioneer league, which now consists of ten teams in the northern Rocky Mountains, will convert to a professional league for undrafted players and those released from affiliated teams. They will play a 92-game schedule (up from 76 games). MLB has promised to provide some initial funding to get the league started, but they’ll have to become self sustaining eventually.

Three former Independent leagues will also become partner leagues: The American Association, Atlantic League and Frontier League will also invite undrafted players.

After cutting the amateur draft in half to 20 rounds (although it could be 25 to 30 rounds) and the elimination of short season rookie leagues, there is expected to be a pool of available talent for the partner leagues. MLB will not pay the salaries of players and coaches or league expenses for partner leagues.

The new MLB Draft League consists of six teams, including four from the NY- Penn league plus Trenton and Frederick, will play a 68 game schedule after the college season up until the MLB all star break, prior to the amateur draft. The wood bat league hopes to be a showcase for players hoping to be drafted, including some high school seniors. The Cape Cod league and the US National team should still attract the best pro draft prospects.

MLB promises to pay seed money such as league entry fees and provide scouting technology and increased marketing power to minor league clubs.

Facilities based leagues- the Gulf Coast league and the Arizona rookie league will continue to be operated by MLB clubs, who are limited to 180 minor league players under contract.