Beyond discussing the setup for the Orioles fall instructional league camp that began Monday during a Zoom press conference yesterday, O’s executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias briefly addressed the future minor league situation.
It is one of much uncertainty and unanswered questions.
The agreement between Minor League Baseball and Major League Baseball has expired. The sides continue to negotiate a new agreement, one that is expected to see MLB take over minor league operations. Many changes seem likely.
Clubs are expected to retain four full-season affiliates, but short-season leagues and teams could be eliminated or dramatically altered. The Rookie-level Appalachian League, founded in 1911, already announced it will relaunch as a wood-bat college league next summer.
The issue the potential changes creates for the Orioles is that short-season Single-A Aberdeen, owned by the Ripken family, seems very likely to move up and become a full-season team. If that happens, they would have to replace one of the club’s current group of four full-season clubs: Triple-A Norfolk, Double-A Bowie, Single-A Frederick and Single-A Delmarva.
Which club is out?
First, we don’t know for certain if it will play out this way, but if it does, I’m told by a few in the sport that such a decision has not been made yet. Perhaps the first domino that has to fall is to complete an agreement between the minor leagues and MLB. Then some dominoes could fall quickly.
“I can’t imagine it being more uncertain between the health crisis and also the restructuring of the minor leagues that is going on but is not settled,” Elias said yesterday. “It’s really impossible to emphasize how many balls are in the air regarding minor league baseball next year.
“The league and baseball ops people from the 30 clubs are game-planning different scenarios. I think everyone, all the way up to commissioner (Rob) Manfred, are very motivated to have a more robust player development experience at our disposal, no matter what happens. But, like anything this year, you have to position yourself for various uncertainties and various outcomes.”
Speaking of uncertainly, it could be at an all-time high for many minor league teams right now. Usually by this time, most clubs would have known their schedule for next year for perhaps months and probably have long since released it for fans to plan ahead. They would be lining up promotional dates and fireworks nights to fill out those schedules.
Now, not only do teams not have schedules, some cannot be certain they will even be in existence next year. Try to sell tickets or ads on the outfield wall under such a situation. What can you possibly tell your fans if they call with questions? There’s so much we don’t know right now about the game even at the MLB level.
We have a schedule for the Orioles for 2021 for both spring training and the regular season. But no one can predict right now whether it will come off as planned. Can fans return to games? Will media be allowed back in the clubhouses?
Uncertainty is, indeed, a good word.
I can’t help but keep thinking about the O’s farm in 2021 and that five teams doesn’t go into four. It will seem very unfair and be a bit heartbreaking if one has to go. No teams have done anything wrong, but the minor leagues are changing and some changes are no doubt going to be hard.
Memory lane trip: When he hit a home run for Tampa Bay in the playoffs last night, I thought: Wasn’t Ji-Man Choi an Oriole for about 10 minutes one offseason? He was and it didn’t seem to actually be much longer than that.
On Nov. 24, 2015 the O’s signed Choi, who had yet to play in the majors, as a minor league free agent. Just over two weeks later, on Dec. 10, he was gone via the Rule 5 draft to the Los Angeles Angels. He hit only .170 that year for the Angels, but he’s gone on to play several seasons and post an OPS of nearly .800.
Click here to see an article I wrote the day the O’s lost the player they had for just days. It was the same day they acquired Rule 5 outfielder Joey Rickard from Tampa Bay.
It was the same day they lost a little-known lefty reliever in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft from Catonsville High School and the University of Maryland named Adam Kolarek. He went on to pitch well for the Rays and this year went 3-0 with an ERA of 0.95 for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Playoff wins for the Yankees and Astros: The New York Yankees beat the Tampa Bay Rays 9-3 last night to take the opener in the American League Division Series. New York leads 1-0 in the best-of-five series after going 2-8 against the Rays in the regular season.
Houston beat Oakland 10-5 in the other ALDS Game 1. Carlos Correa went 3-for-5 with two homers and four RBIs. Both these series continue today and the two National League Division Series start today with Miami against Atlanta and San Diego playing Los Angeles.