The future of more than 40 professional minor league baseball teams appears to be in peril. A new proposal from MLB would sever the major-league affiliations of 42 teams in the lower levels of the minors, mostly short-season and rookie ball teams.
The MLB and MiLB’s Professional Baseball Agreement is set to expire after the 2020 season and a new plan could see major changes.
Under the current agreement, major league clubs generally provide and pay for the staff and players for their affiliates, leaving minor league teams to cover everything else, including field, equipment, travel and uniform-related costs. MLB says it wants minor league organizations to improve the working conditions of their facilities, but its solution is viewed by some pundits as a cost-saving measure and a threat to both the players and the local communities.
“We are in discussions with the owners of the Minor League teams to reorganize elements of the system with the goal of improving the working conditions of minor league players,” MLB said in a statement to The New York Times, “including upgrading the facilities to Major League standards, increasing player compensation, reducing travel time between affiliates for road games, improving transportation and hotel accommodations, increasing the number of off days, and providing better geographical affiliations between the M.L.B. Clubs and affiliates.”
In addition to the changes in working conditions, the proposal, if implemented, also would see the amateur draft reduced from 40 to 20 rounds, which would drastically reducing the player pool. The draft would also be moved from June to August, with the contracts for the draftees beginning the following season. Instead, the players would "report to the major league team complexes and undergo analytics indoctrination—i.e. the analyzation of the hitters’ bat speeds, launch angles etc., and the pitchers’ spin rates, arm strengths and grips," according to Bill Madden of the New York Daily News. This part of the proposal has been dubbed the "Houston Plan," with much of it being conceived by the Astros and their general manager, Jeff Luhnow.
Additionally, limits could be placed on the number of players each organization could have in Triple-A, Double-A, High A, Low-A and in their minor league “complex” team.
In the proposal, MLB said it would create a new “Dream League,” which would be operated by MLB at minimal cost and provide undrafted players an opportunity to play as they look to break into professional baseball. But one minor league official told the New York Times, that such a league would be a "death sentence" as a loss of major-league affiliation would significantly diminish a team’s value in the community and could alter interest among prospective employees.
Cities across America would seem to be at risk of losing parts of their culture and having their economics shift. Some of these teams have responded to MLB's concerns about their facilities by renovating and/or building new stadiums, many of them financed with local taxes. A number of lawsuits from such local communities could follow suit as a result.
However, per Madden, when the MLB owners were presented with the plan, they voted 30-0 in support of the proposal, despite the likelihood of lawsuits.
“I cannot believe the arrogance of these people,” a minor league team owner told the Daily News. “They don’t care about lawsuits or anything. They think they’re bullet proof. They’ve told us, ‘We’re doing this and there’s no discussion about it, and if you don’t like it, we’ll form our own minor leagues.’”