Although the precise plans are still being negotiated with Minor League Baseball, and although politicians are now getting involved (which can throw everything for a loop), it seems that MLB is sticking – publicly now – to its controversial plan to eliminate the big league affiliation of a large number of minor league teams.
On that front, Commissioner Rob Manfred laid out the four justifications today for the plan:
Manfred said there were four reasons to cut 42 MiLB teams.
1. Inadequate facilities
2. 77 franchises have moved since 1990, making for untenable travel
3. Poor pay for minor leaguers
4. Drafting and signing players who don't have a realistic opportunity to make it to the bigs.
— Laura Albanese (@AlbaneseLaura) November 21, 2019
Taking those issues one by one, I will agree that facilities upgrades are necessary with a number of minor league clubs, and the expenses to be borne by those minor league teams lead to difficult negotiations (it’s something that the Cubs have had great success with because they have excellent partners (none of whom are on the chopping block, notably*)).
Of course, if facilities were the issue, then require some additional investment from both the big league and minor league teams. It doesn’t necessarily REQUIRE axing teams. Just spending money.
Travel schedules being a problem because of team locations is another credible point, though part of that is because minor league teams pop up in more remote areas where people don’t otherwise have access to professional baseball. And isn’t that … a good thing for the life of the sport? Isn’t that worth a little extra money in the long-term? Are we really that short-sighted about the very lifeblood (fandom) of what makes the 30 big league organizations money over the decades to come?
Poor pay for minor league players is of course a huge one. The biggest one. But again, technically that doesn’t require axing teams. Just requires more money. The Blue Jays did it for a modest cost. Why aren’t other clubs sacking up to do the same?
And finally, the fourth argument is essentially that big league clubs are having to pay for players that aren’t ever going to be in the big leagues. To me, that’s the lamest argument of all. Are you going to tell me you know how many players is too many? Why do some orgs happily spend to create EXTRA entire teams in the minor leagues? Goodness of their heart? Or is it perhaps possible that they want as many lottery tickets as possible AND they know that those lottery tickets need other players to play with and against. It’s part of the development process, yes?
Moreover, again, if you want to have affiliated pro teams in more remote areas, you need the players to compete with and again. Again, I don’t see this as a problem for Major League Baseball in the long run. I see it as a GOOD thing.
So, ultimately, consider me unpersuaded by these arguments. For the most part, they raise legitimate concerns that could easily be addressed by spending some more money (very little relative to other expenditures), and they rest on this bogus (to me) idea that less affiliate pro baseball across the country is somehow better for the sport.
You can read more of the explanation from Commissioner Manfred here, including his displeasure that the conversation has spilled into the open rather than being a negotiation between MLB and MiLB. It sounds like from his perspective, this is primarily about getting the at-issue teams to improve their facilities, but I do wonder if that would be enough, even if the 42 teams involved agreed to the necessary upgrades. We’ll see.
*Note how detrimental the plan could be even for clubs that AREN’T axed. Imagine that the league decides the South Bend Cubs now must be moved to a new level, and will suddenly become the AA affiliate of the Brewers or something. Think they might be pissed about the tremendous time, energy, public goodwill, and money they’ve invested in becoming part of the Cubs organization, specifically?