Hopes for a minor league season that features teams you recognize playing other teams from other organizations in ballparks around the country aren’t completely dead, but having those kinds of “normal” games at any point this year would require the kinds of medical and financial miracles that no one should reasonably be hoping for at this point.
That is to say, whether it is official or not, the “minor league season” as we know it is going to be fundamentally altered.
There was a report floating yesterday that agents for minor league players had been informed of a cancellation – no normal minor league season was coming – but the league quickly denied the report, as did other reputable sources:
There is a report that MiLB season is cancelled citing agents multiple agents as the sources. I can find nothing of the sort. Three major agencies say they have not received any messaging saying MiLB season is cancelled. MLB and MiLB also both say no decision has been made.— JJ Cooper (@jjcoop36) April 29, 2020
I have heard plenty of speculation that there will be no MiLB season. I had multiple conversations today where agents and other said they wouldn't be surprised if there was just complex play. We at BA have written about the many hurdles that stand between now and an MiLB season..— JJ Cooper (@jjcoop36) April 29, 2020
As Cooper notes, you’re likely going to see something decided about Major League Baseball first, not only because that is the priority, but also because (1) it will be financially more feasible to play big league games (TV-only) than minor league games, which require fans in attendance to make sense without massive subsidizing; and (2) the final structure of a hypothetical MLB season may necessarily require minor leaguers to be in X or Y locations in Z volumes in order to be at the ready for big league team needs. (For example, if the big leagues were to start out playing in Arizona with 35-man rosters, then what you would try to do for minor league baseball would change dramatically.)
The realistic hope is that, if and when testing and case load conditions improve in the coming months, minor league players will be able to organize at various locations for competitive play (without fans, and maybe even without a “league” at all). Just instruction and practice and games – kind of like an extended, minor league Spring Training for the entire year. Call me an optimist, but I do think some version of this will be possible at some point this year, but it might be very limited in scope, geography, and length of time.
Financially, it’s going to be a massive hit for minor league teams, some of whom have already started the process of letting fans unload their tickets:
While our season is still officially delayed, we want to be fair and transparent to our fans on how we are planning to move forward at this time. Fans with tickets for 2020 may exchange them for any game in 2021 or turn their tickets in for a refund. https://t.co/HHGhUhp41i pic.twitter.com/TG3fhskQT5— Portland Sea Dogs (@PortlandSeaDogs) April 29, 2020
Meanwhile, the negotiations on the MLB/MiLB relationship going forward continue – remember that? – with the expectation still being that we’ll see a huge reduction in minor league teams (drop from about 160 to 120), a shrinking of the draft, and moving the draft back. This season will look fundamentally different (if it happens), and then next season, it’s not like we’ll be going back to a normal that we recognized before.
Baseball America spoke to a huge group of anonymous execs and scouts about the coming changes, and their thoughts were fascinating:
We asked MLB front office personnel for their opinions on some major storylines impacting baseball.— Baseball America (@BaseballAmerica) April 28, 2020
Among the discussion points…
⚾️ Cutting to 120 MiLB teams
⚾️ Scaling back the draft
⚾️ Long-term impact of MiLB contractionhttps://t.co/00LYTy1xIP pic.twitter.com/3JGuOgxCiu
Reducing the draft is met with surprising and almost universal acceptance, with many saying more than 25 or so rounds is just unnecessary. That’s fair. But then you have the same group of executives concerned about the impact of contracting so many minor league teams and levels of play … which you would more or less have to do if you dramatically shrunk the size of the draft … so?
I do get the concerns, though, as it could make careful player development more challenging, and you are going to be far more at risk for dropping a young player who might have later figured it out.
My concerns with this plan, though, have always lied with the loss of pro baseball in those communities. Maybe those teams and many of those players are not viewed as necessary to the success of their big league organization, but are you really going to tell me you can’t see how having nearby, affiliated, professional baseball isn’t important to the long-term stability and success of the sport as a whole? Doesn’t that also matter to your organization? Just seems like such a collective action problem, where individual orgs are willing to loss to save some money, but in the collective, they’re all going to lose more than they gain.
Anyway. All of this – the long and the short-term – is just so extraordinarily up in the air right now. I know that the timeline kind of dictates it (the current agreement expires in September), but it’s a little crazy to me that MLB and MiLB are even trying to negotiate a new deal at the moment, given how little we know about anything right now.