Negotiations over a new agreement between MiLB and MLB – taken over in a hammerlock by MLB – had threatened the existence of numerous franchises and a couple of leagues prior to the pandemic. Recent developments, plus the cancellation of the minor league season have pretty much put an end to the minors as we knew it.
Word came out of Florida last week that Minor League Baseball, in a strange and dramatic turn, that MiLB had replaced its team in charge of reaching a deal with MLB. In its place, a group of negotiators close to MiLB President Pat O’Connor – whose very position is threatened by the deal currently on the table – replaced the group that had been seeking a deal with MLB. The previous group was said to have had the interests of minor league operators (imagine that) at heart more than the organization’s administration. Any takeover of governance, of course, would mean the termination of O’Connor’s role.
Baseball America had reported in April that the MiLB bargaining team was willing to allow the takeover of the operating structure of the minors by MLB, in return for assurances of longer-term player development contracts, and other measures that would mean for better financial stability for minor league teams.
The original deal MLB proposed to shove down MiLB’s throat would have seen the elimination of 120 teams, and the realignment and elimination of several minor leagues. MLB claimed that this contraction was necessary to bring minor league facilities in line with their stadiums. The two sides had not met since late April, but last week the new MiLB team put forward a new proposal in advance of the deadline September 30, when the current agreement expires.
JJ Cooper of BA reported that several MLB teams have heard that MLB is considering flipping the low and high versions of Class A. The rationale behind this appears to be to ease the transition of players from the complex leagues to full season ball. Using Toronto affiliates as an example, Low A Lansing of the Midwest League would move to High A, while the Dunedin Blue Jays of the High A Florida State League would switch places. As players are promoted to full season ball from Extended Spring Training or the Gulf Coast League, all they would have to do is switch clubhouses.
In order to keep some of the 40+ teams supposedly on the chopping block alive, another interesting proposal has been floated. The FSL clubs, under this proposal, would begin the season in Florida, then switch to the existing New York-Penn League (a short season loop slated for termination) at mid-season. Several years ago, while talking to Mark Shapiro about where the D-Jays would play when their home park – that they share with the parent club – underwent extensive renovation, he said, “you and I both know that when you’re talking about the Dunedin Blue Jays, you’re not talking about a huge fan base.” In the heat and humidity of late June, July and August, they tend to draw even less, so this proposal, while probably fraught with complications, sounds intriguing. A similar scenario, it has been suggested, could take place with the Arizona Rookie and Northwest Leagues.
And speaking of the NWL, Canada’s only minor league team, the Vancouver Canadians, may be looking for a new MLB partner. As Niall O’Donohoe over at Cs+ baseball has learned, the next time the C’s take the field it could be as a Giants’ affiliate. With geography behind some of the motivation to realign minor leagues, San Francisco may opt to swap their Sally League team in Augusta, GA, for one closer to home. Whatever happens, it’s probably time to wrap our heads around the fact that many of the top prospects in the Blue Jays organization won’t be making a home for a few months in British Columbia any more.
The charge to streamline the minor leagues was led by the Astros, and even though much of their brain trust is now gone in the wake of the trashcan scandal, their ideas have taken over. Some MLB teams were not in favour of the plan, but went along with the majority. Where do the Blue Jays fit in this? It’s hard to say, because few front office members have been willing to even discuss the topic. A senior exec no longer with the team didn’t address the issue directly, but almost leaned in the opposite direction – maybe not along the lines of an expanded farm system, but he felt there was merit in trying to assemble and develop as much talent as possible. The team has been quite happy with the arrangements at all of their affiliates, including Vancouver and Bluefield. In the case of the former, the fantastic stadium atmosphere and taste of living in Canada for prospects overcame any of the shortcomings of venerable old Nat Bailey. Similarly, there was housing (a major issue in some minor league cities) readily available at Bluefield, which remains one of the communities faced with the threat of no pro baseball.
For those of us who follow MiLB closely, it will emerge from this pandemic as a very different entity. Parts of it will remain the same (the Blue Jays will change none of their full season affiliates), but some of the romance will be gone with the disappearance of leagues like the Appy. Many of us will miss it.