This has been quite a year in the news stream, and with the nonstop flow of information, buried beneath has been arguably the most important news for the long term future of major league baseball. The contraction of minor league baseball is still an ongoing topic of discussion, and the Braves have already lost one of their affiliates to the cut. Here we’re going to compile some of the latest news on the topic, what could come in the near future, and how that will affect the Braves and baseball as a whole in the future.
So what is the idea behind contraction in minor league baseball? At face value Major League Baseball wants to eliminate rough 25% of the current minor league affiliates, shrinking it down to four non-complex (GCL, AZL, DSL) teams per major league franchise. The idea behind is to take minor league franchise whose facilities and financial production may not be up to standard and eliminate those leaving only the better money making teams. This will help the bottom line of Major League Baseball and that is the main driving force here but it also does come with other positives.
Minor League Baseball players across the boards will see a much-needed increase in their pay next season, with potentially more in the future, and the rearranging of leagues will shorten travel times and allow them access to higher quality facilities. This is all well and good, but does also come with major drawbacks. The obvious one is the elimination of 25% of the roster spots a player has an opportunity to get a job on. While this won’t affect your top prospects many career minor leaguers and fringe prospects may find themselves ending their baseball careers early. The opportunity for players that find late career resurgences and come back to make it the major leagues and live their dreams simply won’t be as viable, and that is disappointing even though those make up a limited set of extreme cases.
For franchises and communities this could very well be a death sentence. Many small towns in the United States are built around and live through their minor league franchises, and the loss of that will have a negative impact on the livelihood of the teams and the towns. These franchises aren’t being eliminated from existence by any means, they can still hold on as independent franchise or switch to college wood bat leagues for example, but the quality of players coming through will be significantly lower. Many fans come to these games to see future major league players, and when those players no longer come through the ranks attendance and income will dip.
It’s likely some of these 40-odd franchises will fold or be severely limited in their ability to hire employees, and the facilities will not be able to be upgraded as necessary to keep up with times. Towns who have sunk tax dollars into the infrastructure of and surrounding the stadiums will now be at a significant loss. From the perspective of major league baseball this is a clear win financially, but the greater impact could have long term negative consequences for dozens of towns.
Much of the negativity surrounding this is also related to the consistent miscommunications or even lies between Rob Manfred and Major League baseball towards fans and franchise owners. The Save America’s Pastime Act was passed through Congress specifically under the idea that it was to avoid this contraction, and Major League Baseball went through with the push to contract minor league baseball anyways. This benefitted only Major League Baseball owners, as it limited the earning rights of players under the false assumption that it was protecting minor league franchises from being hurt economically.
MLB is now poised to take unilateral control over all of affiliated baseball, a move that gives even more power to a group of individuals led by Manfred that have already soured fans with their approach to and dismantling of many aspects in the sport. The owners gain one more sliver of control, which is all they ever want, and Manfred will get his pats on the head as he once again tries to milk every dime out of every situation with little regard to the affects on players or fans to sate his bosses.
On October 7th MLB the hiring of Peter Freund and his company Trinity Sports Consulting to head up the transition as the Minor League offices officially move to New York. Freund has stake in five minor league franchises, and is well liked around the business. Many owners and team executives see this as a great move for them and for major league baseball as its someone who understands the minor league side of operations and can help bridge the communication gap currently ongoing between major league baseball and minor league baseball and their respective negotiating teams. The affects of this move on the final product and the future of negotiations remains to be seen, but it seems by all accounts to represent a common interest for both sides that has been hard to find throughout the long negotiation process.
Now jumping back a bit, The MiLB-MLB agreement expired on September 30th, and with that came the first official rounds of cuts to franchises. The Appalachian League, of which there are ten teams, was sacked and turned into a college wood bat league that may or may not directly compete with the Cape Cod League. This has it’s own set of complications (potentially watering down the talent level) but the most important for the Braves is that they now lose the Danville Braves franchise as an affiliate.
This is a loss of the franchise where dozens of incoming draftees go each year, and without this the Braves will either have to push players to Low-A Rome, keep them off of a roster entirely, and/or simply not sign as many players. It’s rumored that the Florida Fire Frogs are also up for contraction, which shouldn’t be a huge surprise considering they don’t even have a long term stadium, and this will leave the Braves searching for a new affiliate once again this winter. Advanced Rookie Leagues and Short Season A ball leagues will be eliminated, leaving nothing but your full season ball and complex teams. Baseball America has a list here of teams that are expected to be contracted, and then we’ll have to watch as the leagues are rearranged to see where Braves affiliates land. Mississippi, Rome, and Gwinnett are almost certainly safe, not a surprise given that the Braves own these teams and sink money into making sure their facilities are kept up.
It’s unclear exactly how this will affect baseball long term. Clearly there will be fewer jobs available in minor league baseball, but just how that will affect drafting, scouting, and development remains to be seen. While we were already heading towards the elimination of staff the pandemic has expedited that process for many franchises, and with fewer players and teams to watch it’s unlikely those jobs will ever become available again.
Drafting at the lower ends of draft will be a difficult process as there simply won’t be enough roster spots for a single draft worth of players and many slots will likely be punted rather than filled with college seniors. This could overall increase the talent level in the minor league system at the expense of only a handful of misses on under-the-radar talent, but it also serves to potentially push out veteran players in the minor leagues. Every team has a certain amount of filler talent, but many of those beyond just their performance serve as mentors for young players. Overall for development this may end up benefitting players by exposing them to better talent, better facilities, and easier travel, but I have every reason to doubt this is the reasoning behind the process.
This is ultimately a shame for minor league franchise owners, minor league baseball fans, and for minor league players, coaches, and personnel whose jobs are on the fringe. Jobs will be lost and lives will be changed and it’s happening whether we like it or not. Minor League Baseball as a whole loses a significant amount of independence and number of teams, while gaining little to no value. Much could be said for the upcoming raises and I’m glad major league baseball is doing it, but the $600k or so increase in pay for an entire franchise worth of affiliates is simply paltry and could/should have been done a decade ago. Kudos, I guess, for paying your players an amount slightly closer to what they would need to survive while also cutting out 25% of your workforce. A lot is going to happen over the next four or so months, and we’ll keep you updated as the situation changes, and we will likely know more soon as teams begin to be cut.