Major League Baseball has released a list of forty-two minor league franchises – predominantly lower-level teams – set to lose their major-league affiliations. The proposed downsizing would give those clubs the option of joining a “lower-quality dream league” (to be comprised of undrafted and released players). MLB insists contraction is necessary to improve working conditions for minor league players (think: facilities, salaries, travel). Should the revamp occur, minor league baseball (MiLB) would be left with 120 affiliated teams.
Howie Long-Short: MiLB fans, owners and community leaders have placed the blame for the contraction talk squarely on the shoulders of Rob Manfred. They believe that the commissioner views his job as that of a CEO looking to maximize profitability for shareholders (i.e. the owners), as opposed to that of an ambassador of the sport responsible for maintaining peace within the game. Granted, CEO is a role that Manfred has been particularly adept at serving. As one MLB club owner explained, “Rob makes more money for [ownership] than Bud [Selig] ever did.”
To be clear, MLB’s commissioner believes he’s propelling the game forward, but it certainly appears as if he miscalculated how deep MiLB’s ties to the fabric of this country run. One insider said, “what [MLB] didn’t recognize – or doesn’t care about – is that minor league baseball is about more than just analyzing players. There’s a community and charity aspect that has nothing to do with the development of talent.”
No one disputes that as teams continue to get better at capturing data and utilizing analytics, that the need for such a large pool of minor league players decreases (yes, that could mean teams miss out on a future Mike Piazza or Ryne Sandberg). And many agree that MLB is justified in being frustrated with the way teams are geographically aligned (and the brutal travel demands it puts on players). But cutting 42 teams isn’t going to provide MLB owners with a dramatic cost savings (estimated to be +/- $660,000/year per team) – certainly not enough to damage the quality of life in these markets – and as a result, they’re losing the short-term PR war.
Facilities that play home to lower level MiLB teams lack the profit margins to reinvest in capital improvements, which explains why many of those that lack support at the community level have fallen below MLB standards. The question is will the 120 affiliated teams that remain continue to see funding from their local municipalities? JohnWallStreet is aware of four communities that were considering stadium projects, that have since put those discussions on hold (or in some cases scrapped them entirely) for fear MLB will use contraction as leverage again when the Professional Baseball Agreement expires the next time around.
Some have suggested that should this round of contraction occur, that it would be the first step to MLB eventually putting an end to affiliated minor league ball, but it seems as if the league’s decision to gift the independent leagues its robo-umpire project was more of a warning shot to MiLB that “they’re not the only game in town as the two parties sit down at the negotiating table.” Ultimately, it’s not feasible for a minor league consisting of just independent teams – they don’t generate enough revenue to pay the players (which is why the concept of a ‘dream league’ is not viable).
Fan Marino: Shuttering MiLB affiliates won’t help MLB build fans of the sport, but there probably aren’t enough people in many of those small towns to impact baseball’s bottom line.
Editor Note: Please note that joining our community (below) will entitle you to receive our free daily email newsletter.