As the baseball offseason begins to crank up, fans around the sport continue to wait on news about the future of Minor League Baseball. What has become pretty clear is that Major League Baseball is taking over running the minors. The current Professional Baseball Agreement that governs Minor League Baseball has run out as the two sides continue to negotiate the terms of a new one.
But MLB will emerge as the organization that oversees all of it and no doubt in some ways this may be better for the minors and in some ways it may not be better.
During this podcast on Baseball America, Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper said he believes there is a good chance we hear from MLB and get some clarity on all of this during November. He even mentioned the middle of the month, which is just days away now. With owners and general managers meetings coming up, he believes there could be some resolution and final decisions made.
The belief remains that full season minor league baseball will continue on as in the past with 120 teams - four per each MLB club. And that is one each in Triple-A, Double-A, high Single-A and low Single-A ball. Each organization would have one other short-season club, a so-called complex league team. The complex leagues are those that play at the club’s spring training complexes. For instance, the Orioles have a Rookie level Gulf Coast League club that plays at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota.
Baseball America recently published this story about a proposal for the short-season Single-A New York-Penn League to become a summer wood bat college league for rising seniors. Yesterday Baseball America published this piece about a deadline for teams to make some decisions.
But it doesn’t seem at all likely that the Aberdeen IronBirds of the New York-Penn League will become a franchise that plays in a wood bat college league. The facility is too good, it’s a strong franchise and it’s owned by Cal Ripken Jr., an Orioles Hall of Famer.
It’s not a stretch to expect Aberdeen to move to full-season ball as an O’s affiliate next year. But the club already has its four full-season affiliates with Triple-A Norfolk, Double-A Bowie, high Single-A Frederick and low Single-A Delmarva.
Aberdeen general manager Jack Graham has seen the stories about the New York-Penn League becoming a college league. He doesn’t expect that that will be the fate for his team.
“We’re very optimistic that we’re going to be playing affiliated baseball next year,” Graham said during a Monday telephone interview. “We’re waiting for Major League Baseball to tell us what level it will be, how many games we’re going to play. But we’re very optimistic that we’re going to be playing affiliated baseball.
“We think it’s logical that we’ll be playing for the MLB affiliate that is 25 miles away. We’re very confident in all respects. It’s a matter of waiting to be told what level and what league will that be. All of those things we are anticipating. And certainly we wish nothing but the best for every minor league team, not just the affiliates with the Orioles. There is plenty of baseball to go around and we hope that everyone gets what they need.”
So Graham expects that Aberdeen will move to full-season ball in 2021?
“I don’t know that there is any alternative,” said Graham. “I don’t believe that that (a college wood bat league) is the direction that we’re going, no.”
Meanwhile, Cooper also believes that each MLB club will have a limit of 150 players for those five US-based teams. This includes only those clubs and not any in the Dominican Republic. The roster size is not yet known. In recent years, it was 25 per club in the full-season leagues. Five times 25 is 125, which would allow for extra players for injuries, etc.
The expectation is that what was (and for now still is) the Minor League Baseball office in St. Petersburg, Fla., will eventually be no more. Any minor league officials will work out of New York moving forward. There is also a chance that lower-level full-season teams could play fewer games than Double-A and Triple-A, but nothing is set on that front yet.
There is an expectation that many facilities will need to be upgraded. What is not known is how soon teams will have to get up to certain standards, but some improvements will be necessary. We also don’t know who will be expected to pay for these upgrades. And we are not so much talking about fan amenities, but upgrades to better serve coaches and players such as improved clubhouses, batting cages, coaches lockers, etc.
There is some discussion about improving travel conditions: trying to find a way for shorter bus rides or, failing that, teams may have to provide an additional bus for some trips and/or sleeper buses for overnight trips. More off-days could be scheduled when teams travel extremely long distances.
With MLB taking more control over the minors, we could see an effort to improve marketing and sponsorship sales to benefit all teams. The possibility exists for national sponsors and/or title sponsors to produce income that could benefit all remaining clubs. There has been talk of MLB trying to get some of its broadcast partners to televise some minor league games.