MLB Proposes Major Overhaul of Minor League System

With the general manager meetings in the rearview mirror and some significant signings this week, the baseball offseason is starting to heat up.  An unexpected topic of discussion will be added to the typical conversation on trades, free agent signings, and rumors this winter.

According to a report in Baseball America, MLB has submitted a proposal to drastically overhaul the minor league system. Talks are expected to resume shortly, on the bid that could result in the elimination of 42 teams and hundreds of players starting in 2021.

Minor League Facilities Upgrade

The primary driver of the proposed restructuring is MLB’s desire for a sizable upgrade of facilities across the minors. MLB would also like to have ownership of the way affiliations are structured and the geography of the leagues. Both of those areas have been under MiLB control for more than 100 years, but MLB would like to change that after the current agreement expires at the end of the 2020 season.

Reducing the Number of Affiliates

In the new proposal, MLB would slash MiLB by 40 teams starting in 2021, reducing the number of minor league roster spots to 150 – 200 players. Beyond the impact on the number of players, leagues and classification levels would be changed across the board. The major levels Triple-A, Double-A, High Class A, and Low Class A, would remain intact, but the makeup of the levels would be redistributed for better geographical alignment.

MLB teams would be limited to five affiliates consisting of the four major classes and one rookie league team. This would force clubs to cut about 100 players each from their minor league rosters. Some short-season clubs would become full-season teams with some of the current full-season teams eliminated.

Dreamers

To make up for having fewer  teams, the proposal suggests setting up a dream league. Players not selected in the draft would be able to play in the “dream league” or have the option of going to one of the independent leagues. The draft would be moved until after the College World Series and be cut to 20-25 rounds. With the draft being later and the elimination of short-season teams, most players would not start their careers until the following season.

Minor League Player Salary Increase

From the minor league player perspective, one benefit to the new agreement is that MLB is rumored to be willing to raise salaries by as much as 50 percent.  The minuscule salaries that minor league players currently receive have been a frequent topic of discussion, the major cost reduction would enable these players  to receive a more reasonable wage. MLB deputy commissioner Dan Halem commented on the issue, stating: 

From the perspective of MLB clubs, our principal goals are upgrading the minor league facilities that we believe have inadequate standards for potential MLB players, improving the working conditions for MiLB players, including their compensation, improving transportation and hotel accommodations, providing better geographic affiliations between major league clubs and their affiliates, as well as better geographic lineups of leagues to reduce player travel. 

One possible indicator of how loud the fireworks surrounding the topic will be this winter came early last week. In a surprise bipartisan effort, 104 members of Congress sent a letter to MLB expressing their displeasure with the proposal.

If enacted, it would undermine the health of the minor league system that undergirds talent development and encourages fan loyalty,” the letter stated.  “It would particularly be felt in areas far from a major league team or where tickets to a major league game are cost-prohibitive.”

Based on the early conversation, it feels like the hot stove is going to be a little hotter than usual this winter. Now, if we can only say the same about the Chicago weather.

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  • Most of this is on the margins. For instance, any prospect with any prospects will have already received a signing bonus. Also, it depends where they cut the teams, but given that Triple AAA was previously forced to upgrade their stadiums to ML standards, probably only the very small towns.

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