Major questions surround the minor league season

Whatever planning is done by the Orioles for 2021 should come with the same asterisk attached to the champion of a 60-game season with numerous rule and travel changes.

(OK, that’s the last one. But again, my argument is based on comparing seasons, not the teams who played in a pandemic.)

No decision has been made on the construction of the upcoming season, including the number of games. It’s too early. The Orioles need more information as it becomes available.

Some roster battles can’t been decided unless we know the size of the roster.

There’s also confusion regarding the minor league side, which impacts how the Orioles are going to keep developing their young players.

They don’t know whether an alternate camp site is going to exist again or if affiliates will be able to play games. They don’t know how many affiliates will exist with the contraction of 40 teams on the table.

They keep trying to move forward while stuck in a holding pattern.

Thumbnail image for Elias-Sunglasses-Visor-ST-Sidebar.jpgExecutive vice president/general manager Mike Elias is gathering the facts before he’s able to share them. And like a rebuild, it’s a process that can’t be rushed.

“I can’t make any of those announcements right now, and the reason for that is that the talks at the league level are still ongoing and we have not received any official word about the overall structure,” Elias said in his recent Zoom conference call with the media.

“There’s info that trickles out of those discussions, but until any of it is certified, it wouldn’t be responsible to talk about it publicly. I know they’re working on it and are making good progress. I think as we’ve said all along, we’re going to find out that player development in minor league baseball is going to be in a very healthy spot despite the crisis that has taken place due to COVID and I think that we’re going to have a really good setup for what the needs are for the minors and for the fans across baseball for the next 25-50 years. But that work’s still being done.”

Yellow construction tape surrounds the minors.

Major League Baseball laid out a proposed last month to convert the New York-Penn League into a group of teams for draft-eligible college seniors. Baseball America reported that under the proposal “MLB would try to route rising freshmen and sophomores to the Appalachian League. Rising juniors would be encouraged to head to the existing Cape Cod League and the NYPL would be the top destination for draft-eligible rising seniors.”

Something else for the Orioles to digest with the short-season Single-A Aberdeen IronBirds based in the New-York Penn League and likely bound to become a full-season affiliate.

It would be a win just to have a full minor league season. Except for Trenton Thunder owner Joseph Plumeri, who ripped the Yankees after discovering plans to move their Double-A affiliate to Somerset, N.J.

His statement included the words “betrayed,” “misled” and “abandoned.”

The Columbus Fireflies learned through a beat writer’s tweet that they no longer were a Mets’ Single-A affiliate, which prompted their own tweet that read: “Did...did we just get dumped via Twitter?”

Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper reported that MLB sent a message to all 30 teams asking them to stop leaking or releasing information on their affiliates for 2021.

Elias has his own questions and concerns, but he also strikes tones that ring positive.

“With regard to next year, there’s nothing official yet in terms of any changes to what would be a normal minor league schedule, but I think we all know that it’s very possible that we may have to make some adjustments and maybe not get right back to normal right away,” Elias said. “Some of that contingency planning is going on. Our opinions are being sought as player development people and as front offices, so we get involved with the league and some committees that are working on those contingency plans.

“I will say that I am very optimistic and hopeful and we’re all very motivated to have much more on the player development side than we had this year, no matter what occurs. So that’s kind of the push from the league, and we’ve got to prepare, though, for a bunch of different things across the spectrum. From a full, normal minor league season, which is everyone’s hope, to something that starts a little differently and then morphs into a full minor league season, to other options. And we just don’t know what it’s going to be yet.”

So hurry up and wait.

Meanwhile, MLB announced that it hired Peter Woodfork as senior vice president of minor league operations and development.

Woodfork will oversee the operation of MLB’s player development system, including relationships with licensed affiliates, partner leagues and the player development departments of all 30 clubs. He’s going to be the primary point person for affiliated teams on all issues related to governance, scheduling, umpiring, license compliance and other league administration functions.

The name immediately brought back memories of the Orioles’ search for Dan Duquette’s replacement in the front office. Woodfork was one of the candidates.

Woodfork spent five years with the Diamondbacks as assistant general manager and three years with the Red Sox as director of baseball operations. The Orioles placed him on a list that also included Elias, Ned Colletti, Ben Cherington, Ned Rice and Tyrone Brooks.

Scott Sharp spoke with John and Louis Angelos, but didn’t have a face-to-face meeting, from what I was told.

Tigers assistant David Chadd apparently grew impatient and removed himself from consideration. Former Dodgers assistant Kim Ng didn’t interview with the Orioles despite persistent reports of her candidacy.

The Orioles announced Elias’ hiring on Nov. 16, 2018. Sources confirmed it a few days earlier while the Angelos brothers attended the owners meetings in Atlanta.

The press release issued by the club stated that Elias would “oversee all baseball operations for the club and have full autonomy to build his staff and make decisions on all baseball matters that he believes will make the Orioles successful on the field, entertaining to fans, and impactful in the community.”

This is exactly how it’s played out as Elias enters his third season in charge.

Note: Left-hander Brian Gonzalez, the Orioles’ third-round pick in 2014, signed a minor league deal with the Rockies that includes a spring training invite. His agency tweeted the news yesterday.

The Orioles added Gonzalez to their 60-man pool over the summer. He was a minor league free agent.

Gonzalez tweeted the following:

“Bitter sweet day, just want to give a huge thank you to the whole @Orioles organization. Tons of great people and relationships built over the last 7 years that I cherish and won’t take for granted! It was a fun ride and will always have the O’s in a special place in my heart!”

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