Are big changes on the horizon throughout minor league baseball?

The look of affiliated Minor League Baseball could be in for major changes beginning in 2021. Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper reported Friday that 42 teams could be eliminated, reducing the number of minor league clubs to 120 starting in 2021.

This is a proposal from Major League Baseball in current negotiations with Minor League Baseball (MiLB) as part of a remodeled agreement from the one that ends with the 2020 season.

It is a long story, but is filled with details and worth your time.

Cooper’s story begins this way: “The Professional Baseball Agreement (PBA) between Major League Baseball and minor league teams expires at the end of the 2020 season. But if a new MLB proposal were to become reality, more than three dozen cities with affiliated minor league teams will lose those teams a year from now and thousands of minor league players will be out of work as well.

“The MLB proposal is just one idea at the start of what will likely be a lengthy negotiation, but the two sides are further apart than they have been in any PBA negotiation since 1990. At the core of the negotiations, MLB is looking to dramatically improve Minor League Baseball’s stadium facilities as well as take control over how the minor leagues are organized as far as affiliations and the geography of leagues. Those areas have been under the control of MiLB for the past 100-plus years and would lead to a dramatic restructuring of how MiLB is governed and operates.

“MLB has offered a proposal that, if adopted, would reduce Minor League Baseball from 160 teams - not counting the complex league teams that are wholly MLB-owned - to 120 beginning in 2021.

“The proposal is described as a preliminary offering subject to alteration. But if the proposal, or some version of it, is adopted, it will lead to the most dramatic restructuring of the minor leagues in more than half a century. Under the proposal, not only would more than 25 percent of MiLB teams be eliminated, but the remaining leagues would also be dramatically reworked with some leagues getting much smaller, others getting bigger, and teams switching classification levels all around the country.”

Cooper’s story points out that facilities is at the core of this. The feeling is that there are too many substandard facilities in the minors. Also, a reduction of teams would lead to better pay for the players that remain.

Again, this is a preliminary proposal and nothing is set or finalized. This could change or be reworked. Cooper reports, “That reduction (to 120 teams) would completely eliminate the four, non-complex Rookie-level and short-season classifications from the minor leagues.”

That means the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League and Arizona League would be safe as they feature teams that play at current MLB complexes. This includes the Gulf Coast League Orioles, who had the best record in that league this year at 38-15. But it would eliminate the New York-Penn League, where the short-season Single-A Aberdeen IronBirds play. If this goes through, it doesn’t necessarily mean the end of the team though. Aberdeen plays in a top-notch facility at Ripken Stadium and has a seemingly pretty successful franchise. Cooper’s story points out that some teams could even change classifications, as in a Single-A team moving to Triple-A or Triple-A moving down to Single-A.

Cooper reports, “Not all current full-season teams would survive in this proposal. Some short-season clubs would be asked to move up to take the place of excised full-season affiliates.”

Rutschman-Autographs-Aberdeen-sidebar.jpgMLB officials also desire player development contracts with affiliates longer than two years. The Orioles’ current player development contracts with their top five clubs at Triple-A Norfolk, Double-A Bowie, Single-A Frederick, Single-A Delmarva and Aberdeen run through 2020.

The story reports that MLB seeks to limit teams to five United States-based affiliates. The Orioles currently have six in Norfolk, Bowie, Frederick, Delmarva, Aberdeen and in the GCL.

There is also a plan to limit organizations to between 150 and 200 players under minor league contracts. The proposal does not address roster limits for international players playing in the Dominican Summer League. When the short-season leagues begin each year in mid-June, the Orioles have over 200 players under minor league contracts.

In addition, Cooper writes: “As part of its overhaul, MLB would move the draft back to August and would reduce it to 20-25 rounds. Those players who go undrafted would have the option of playing in the Dream League (or going to independent leagues). The Dream League would be a joint MLB-MiLB venture, but in essence it would be a quasi-independent league where the clubs would field teams of undrafted players. Some or all of the 42 cities that would lose their minor league affiliations, could be part of the proposed Dream League.”

By the way, an updated story later reported that rather than hold the draft in August, it would happen sometime after the College World Series, which this year ended in late June.

There is a lot to absorb here. Again, nothing is final; this is a proposal. But take the time to read Cooper’s story, which is excellent in providing numerous details being bandied about along with the reasons for them. Cooper reports that several leagues could look different. The South Atlantic League, home to some of the longest bus rides in the minors, could shrink to eight teams and a new mid-Atlantic-based league could emerge. That would potentially impact Delmarva.

No way to know or even really speculate much right now about what this means for the Orioles and their minors overall. But if they are reducing U.S.-based affiliates to five, the O’s are currently one over that limit.

Among the proposed ideas...

⚾️ Cutting 42 teams
⚾️ Widespread facility upgrades
⚾️ PCL shifts from 14 teams to 10
⚾️ Northwest League becomes full-season
⚾️ Move draft to August
⚾️ Shorten the draft
⚾️ Creating the ‘Dream’ League

-- Baseball America (@BaseballAmerica) October 18, 2019

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