Will MLB really cut 42 MiLB teams?


by - Columnist -
Jake Roth - USA Today Sports
Jake Roth - USA Today Sports

As the days pass, the issues, tension, and bickering between Major League Baseball and MiLB become more and more palpable. I'm not really sure what initially started the ill-will between them, but one thing is evident – it isn't getting any better.

First rumored at the end of last season, MLB was talking about doing away with 42 MiLB teams – an amount equivalent to more than 25%. The Major League franchises provide subsidizing for their minor leaguers, that is to say, they pay their salaries and other costs. The objective moving forward is to cut down the overhead spent on multiple lower-level franchises, thus increasing the bottom line for ownership. The players certainly don't want this to occur, nor do the fans. At this point, Congress has even gotten on board, siding with the minor league affiliates.

When MLB proposed this plan last year, 13 teams would have ceased operating altogether, while another 29 teams would remain intact, but without a Major League affiliate. This would put the 29 teams which remain in the same category as those who play in the Atlantic League – yes, you're a professional ballplayer, but no, you probably won't ever have a chance to make it to the show.

Several state representatives introduced a resolution to save the minor league franchises. Those who participated included Lori Trahan, D-Mass.; David McKinley, R-W. Va.; Max Rose, D-N.Y.; and Mike Simpson, R- Idaho.

Simpson said, "Minor League Baseball teams have had a major impact on small communities. These teams provide an enormous cultural and economic benefit to the communities they call home," McKinley said in a statement. "Doing away with 42 teams is not a reasonable solution."

The text says the House "supports the preservation of minor league baseball in 160 American communities," and it "recognizes the unique social, economic, and historic contributions that minor league baseball has made to American life and culture."

"The proposal to cut 42 teams will leave communities like Idaho Falls without affordable and accessible options for families to experience America's pastime."

In response, MLB replied, "MLB is confident that we can modernize our minor league system, improve playing conditions for our players, and protect baseball in communities across America. However, doing so is best achieved with Minor League Baseball's constructive participation and a recognition that they need to be part of the solution. So far, their approach has been neither constructive nor solutions-oriented. The most constructive role Congress can play to achieve these goals is to encourage Minor League Baseball to return to the bargaining table so we can work together to address the real issues impacting minor league players and communities all across the country."

With the pandemic choking the life out of baseball, MLB is now back to discussing the option (aka probability) that they will be doing away with teams as of May 1, 2020. Several organizations, including the Cubs, had recently taken giant steps to improve conditions for minor leaguers, including healthy salary raises. Was that a token gesture because they knew teams would be disappearing? Maybe.

If the plan goes through, baseball will readjust – even if some local economies like the one in Eugene, Oregon doesn't. Scouts will become that much more selective, increasing their due diligence before the draft deadlines.

If you figured just 26 men per team, the loss of 42 clubs is going to lessen the workforce by over 1,000 players, meaning that guys will have to be that much better to be drafted. Next, add in another 300 or so coaches, managers, trainers, and front office personnel. Then there's the security workers, the vendors, the grounds crew, the concession workers, and so on. By the time this is over with, MLB should certainly be able to afford to give those who'll remain, that healthy raise they both wanted and deserve.

Despite all of the bad, there is some upside to this proposal. As I said, players will be paid better. The competition and talent at all levels of the minors should improve, as third-rate players won't even be drafted. This plan won't even touch Double-A and Triple-A teams, so it isn't like the Iowa or South Bend Cubs will cease to exist.

By eliminating teams, it's highly likely that divisions and leagues may be realigned. It makes no sense that the Iowa Cubs don't play the Springfield (MO) Cardinals, yet they currently have to travel to Memphis and Nashville. For that matter, what sense does it make that they play in the Pacific Coast League? Des Moines, Iowa, is just about as far from the pacific coast as you can be. A realignment would cut down on excess travel, which is one of the issues the sides are at odds over.

If this happens as is expected, several players will be taking their lumps, but conditions will improve for those who remain, and that's never a bad thing.

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