Major League Baseball is currently negotiating a new Professional Baseball Agreement (PBA) with Minor League Baseball, which operates as a sprawling feeder system and training pipeline for the big leagues. If MLB has their way, MiLB will undergo massive restructuring, including the possible elimination of a quarter of all minor league teams from around the country.
Baseball America, which reported MLB’s restructuring proposal, makes clear that this is from the early stages of what promises to be a long and difficult process, which reportedly started with the two sides “further apart than they have been in any PBA negotiation since 1990.” MLB deputy commissioner Doug Halem told Baseball America that the sides are still “presenting ... the issues and concerns they have with the existing PBA,” and outlined the fit-for-public-consumption portion of MLB’s stance:
“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.”
Facilities should adhere to a reasonable standard of comfort and function, and MLB has apparently determined that roughly 25 percent of all MiLB facilities “fall far below” a level deemed adequate for players in the pipelines of big-league clubs. Rather than invest in bringing those facilities up to snuff, MLB’s proposal would reduce the total number of Player Development Contracts—the affiliate deals arranged between MLB and MiLB teams—down to 120. This would significantly shrink the number of teams in each MLB franchise’s minor league system, and would require some franchises to “shed more than 100 players from their current MiLB rosters.” It’s possible some of those newly unaffiliated teams would continue to exist independently, outside of MLB’s affiliate network, but Baseball America figures a good number would be unable to survive. Either way, slashing the affiliate network would reduce MLB’s share of the expenses of maintaining minor league baseball leagues and teams.
It makes a kind of gruesome, post-human sense for owners and investor types to make a move right now to partially gut the minors. Minor-league salaries will need to come way up, crooked legislation or no, just as owners are winning a multi-year soft-collusion campaign to tamp down major-league salaries. As Nate Tinfoil’s math blog argued last month, analytics, technology, and specialization offer the opportunity to overhaul what it means to develop a prospect. And a certain type of wised-up fan is already tuned to think of anything that makes owning a baseball team more profitable, or preserves its profitability in the face of changing labor dynamics, as wise business:
MiLB, for obvious reasons, is pushing back at MLB’s dramatic restructuring idea, and Baseball America warns that this PBA negotiation “has already turned contentious.” For now, this is all just a proposal, but it paints a pretty sorry picture of what baseball’s owners see for the future of the minors. God help you if you’re someone who just enjoys watching baseball games.