Major League Baseball hasn’t reached a new agreement with Minor League Baseball even though the old one has expired, Commissioner Rob Manfred told Sportico in a recent exclusive interview during the World Series.
But Manfred made it clear the two sides won’t continue to operate under the auspices of the old agreement, which expired on Sept. 30.
“We need to reach a new agreement,” Manfred said. “I don’t think we’re going to operate again under the old agreement.”
There was no minor league season this year because of the coronavirus. Even before that, MLB made it clear it wants to take control of the minors and the ballparks in which those teams play. As many as 40 of the 160 franchises could be dissolved, although some are in financial jeopardy after missing an entire season and the accompanying revenue.
MLB already began the elimination process in late September with the conversion of the five-team Rookie Advanced Appalachian League into a joint wood-bat operation with USA Baseball that will include college freshmen and sophomores. But the heavy lifting still needs to be done.
“We have not reached agreement and we are still negotiating,” Manfred said. “We want to reach an agreement. It has been a process that has been slowed down—and I don’t want to be pejorative—by constant change in who we’re supposed to be negotiating with.
“We’ve had multiple iterations of executives and negotiating committees on the other side. And that slows down the process.”
MLB intends to move the minor league operations from Florida to New York. During the heat of the negotiations in September, longtime minor league president Pat O’Conner announced his retirement at the end of the year, despite having been elected to a new four-year term at the Winter Meetings last December in San Diego.
Whether there’s a minor league season in 2021 is still to be determined and again will be tied to what kind of shape and form the next Major League season takes. This past season, after taut negotiations with the MLB Players Association, Manfred implemented a 60-game schedule sans fans in attendance.
Almost immediately after that decision, the announcement was made that the minor league season had been canceled.
With COVID-19 cases and deaths continuing to spiral, a mid-February report to spring training would appear to be in jeopardy. A full spring training and 162-game regular season has already been announced with exhibition games set to begin in Florida and Arizona on Feb. 27, although all times of spring games are listed as still to be determined. For example, the San Francisco Giants’ website is telling fans that tickets for games at Scottsdale Stadium are not yet available.
The Arizona Fall League, normally used to develop top minor league prospects, was canceled and replaced by a more modest instructional league, allowing much-needed game situations for the minor leaguers who lost a season of development. The majority of minor leaguers didn’t play at all this year, however, save for intramural competition in Major League alternate camps.
MLB also has canceled its November general managers’ and owners’ meetings, as well as December’s Winter Meetings, because of the pandemic. The GM meetings were scheduled for Las Vegas. The other two were slated for the Dallas area, where the World Series ended last Wednesday night with the Los Angeles Dodgers defeating the Tampa Bay Rays in six games.
For now, MLB has no events officially scheduled well into the new year. The regular season is on the docket to begin April 1, but that date is also highly questionable. The minor-league season typically commences about a week later.
Major League clubs have affiliation agreements with minor league teams that usually last two or three years, and foot all expenses for contracts, travel, food, medical and equipment. Player rights are owned by the big league club and those players can be moved at will to different teams in the system. Minor league owners receive most of their revenue from game day ballpark sales, merchandise, local radio, TV and sponsorships. Ballparks are usually funded by public dollars in the local community.
Manfred said last week that MLB teams had accrued $8.3 billion in debt and nearly $3 billion in operational losses playing a shortened season without stadium revenue. “It’s going to be difficult for the industry to weather another year where we don’t have fans in the ballpark,” he added.
“We don’t know what’s next,” Manfred said. “We’re watching developments with respect to the virus really carefully. We’ve got a great set of experts who are advising us on that. But at this point it’s just impossible to speculate about what next year’s going to look like. We’re going to have to get closer with more information. We’ll make the best set of decisions we can.”