More gains for minor league players, plus other notes

As the second year of play since the restructuring of the minor leagues is set to begin in 2022, there will be a first coming for the players. The big league teams will be responsible for housing the minor league players and covering utilities. Major League Baseball issued a press release on Thursday announcing these plans.

One big headache and expense is now off the plates of the minor leaguers. Coupled with the modest salary increases that began in 2021, the players are making some financial gains. This was needed and will no doubt be huge, especially for players that did not receive big signing bonuses.

I can remember a time when a longtime Orioles minor league player finally got the call to the majors. Knowing the huge disparity in pay between a player on the farm and one in the majors, this player said to me, “Steve, if I can just stay on the big league roster three weeks, I can get out of debt.”

For years, some players have gotten into debt while pursuing their dream of playing big league baseball. They are not the first people or group to go into debt while chasing a dream. But in a $10 billion industry, one had to figure there is just a better way to do this.

So since MLB took over the minors starting last season, some gains for the players have been made. We should applaud this while hoping for more. The six-game series meant less travel for players and one mandated off-day per week, leading to more rest. The work to improve facilities is ongoing. Schedules are made with shorter trips in mind. All this is done with the goal to improve the player development process and make it better for players to concentrate on the field.

No longer will be a player be promoted say from Single-A to Double-A and wonder where he will sleep or if he can afford a place while also wondering how to get out of the lease he signed when the season began.

“The owners went into our first season modernizing the player development system focused on addressing longstanding issues that have impacted minor league players for decades,” said Morgan Sword, MLB’s executive vice-president of baseball operations. “As part of the new system, owners increased salaries from 38-72 percent for 2021, improved facilities, provided more amenities and better clubhouse conditions, removed all clubhouse dues, and reduced in-season travel with better geographical alignment.

“Owners knew that a change of this scale always meant that more work would need to be done to achieve our shared goals. This step forward recognizes that the unprecedented nature of the past two years has further exacerbated affordable housing challenges across the country that existed before the pandemic. The owners are confident that this investment will help ensure that minor league players have every opportunity to achieve their dreams of becoming major leaguers.”

While they are at it, I hope MLB officials take a few other things into consideration:

* It’s time to standardize the baseball. They should be using the same one at every level on the farm that is used in MLB.

* MLB should work to add a minor league national television broadcast package. No, it won’t have nearly the appeal of MLB games, but perhaps a broadcast partner will be encouraged to pick up some games.

* Here’s hoping that MLB adds national sponsors for the minors, producing some income to be funneled back to the individual teams. Minor league clubs took a major hit without a 2020 season. In addition to that, many tickets that were sold for 2020 were simply honored for the 2021 season by many clubs, meaning that new tickets were not sold in some cases. The clubs are still hurting in many places.

* A city like Frederick, Md., that lost its affiliation, should get another one, whether it’s with the Orioles or another club. Frederick was too good of a minor league city for too long to be without a club. I know they had an MLB Draft League team last summer, but I believe Frederick should eventually be restored as an affiliated minor league city.

New-IronBirds-Logo-Sidebar.jpgNews from Aberdeen: While on the topic of the minors, the Orioles high Single-A Aberdeen IronBirds will have a new logo for the 2022 season, which will be their 20th season. The team showed off the new logo along with new home, road and alternate jerseys on Thursday.

Aberdeen last changed logos ahead of the 2013 season. The IronBirds worked in conjunction with the Orioles to produce their new script wordmark, evoking that of their parent club with everything from the proper angle of the script’s tilt to the thickness of its font to the kerning of its letters.

“We call him Ace the Jet, and he is fairly reminiscent of our first logo from back in 2002,” IronBirds general manager Jack Graham said. “A big component of why we’re doing this now is because 2022 is going to not only be the 20th anniversary of our first season, but because we missed a year in 2020, it’ll be the 20th season. We can get sort of a two-for-one there.

“(The Orioles) are such great partners on the field, it only made sense to engage them off the field with our branding and make sure that we’re still letting people know that we love them, they love us, and we’re all one big bird family,”

MVP winners: Awards week in the majors continued last night as Shohei Ohtani of the Los Angeles Angels was voted the American League Most Valuable Player by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. The Phillies Bryce Harper took home the MVP award in the National League.

For the first time, I was an MVP voter in the AL. Here was my top 10 in order: Ohtani (Angels), Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (Blue Jays), Aaron Judge (Yankees), Carlos Correa (Astros), Marcus Semien (Blue Jays), Rafael Devers (Red Sox), José Ramírez (Indians), Matt Olson (Athletics), Cedric Mullins (Orioles), Mike Zunino (Rays).

So Mullins finished ninth after his MVO and 30-30 year. For more on Ohtani’s win click here and for the writers’ ballots, click here.

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