A century ago, the minor leagues were still very much independent entities, competing with MLB clubs for players and fans. Oh, there was a shrewd operator in St Louis by the name of Rickey who was quietly buying lower level minor league teams and building baseball’s first farm system, but for the most part, minor leagues and teams operated independently of MLB.
Over a series of inducements and rule changes, that independence was slowly chipped away, and come September 30th, the minors as we once knew them will cease to exist. Oh, they’ll be playing (at some point), but MiLB is about to become a full-fledged branch office of MLB.
We still don’t know what the minors will look like when prospects next take the field, but some ideas are becoming clearer. MLB wants to streamline things from a geographical standpoint – to be honest, it was ridiculous a decade-plus ago when the Blue Jays AAA affiliate was a continent away in Las Vegas. MLB also wants to cuts costs, and that means a shorter draft, and fewer minor leagues.
From what has emerged from the talks between MLB and MiLB, it’s safe to say that the short season level – the Appalachian, Pioneer, and possibly even New York-Penn Leagues – will not exist as professional ball next year, to be replaced by a wooden bat dreamers league of Kevin Pillars. The Northwest League will probably be converted to a full season A-ball loop, given west coast teams closer affiliates at that level.
What will the Blue Jays system look like? The complex leagues like the GCL (and DSL) will still operate, so the Blue Jays will have a team playing a 70-game schedule out of their shiny new minor league site (the construction of which is probably a coincidence). Bluefield will be gone as an affiliate, and reports suggest Vancouver – which has been wildly successful as a Toronto affiliate – will join the Giants system in the revamped NWL.
Reports also suggest that High and Low A will flip roles, meaning that Dunedin and the Florida State League will become the latter, and Lansing of the Midwest League will become the former. New Hampshire and Buffalo will likely remain as higher level affiliates in the system. One wild rumour that has made the rounds would see FSL teams start the season in Florida, then move to the former NY-Penn sites at mid-season. That seems intriguing, but a logistical challenge at the same time.
One thing is for sure – the farm systems that emerge next season will be much slimmer versions of their former selves. And many fans who live far from MLB cities will have their only source of live baseball taken away, or changed drastically. It’s been very hard to get any comment about the whole situation from Blue Jays front office officials, but one who spoke off the record several months ago felt that if anything, they should be moving in the opposite direction and adding teams.