Today, as part of an announcement about a key hire to help with a transition, Major League Baseball actually wound up announcing that it will indeed be taking over Minor League Baseball operations. It was rumored over the summer that it’s the route the league wanted to go – their contract with MiLB ended in September – and now it’s happening.
Here’s the announcement, and the parsing:
In this release, MLB makes a number of expected things public.
1) It is moving minor league offices to New York (a fait accompli, but first public acknowledgement)
2) Minor league teams are now referred to as "licensed affiliates." https://t.co/XKVaCCD9qE
— JJ Cooper (@jjcoop36) October 7, 2020
I’ve long had mixed feelings about MLB taking over MiLB operations. On the one hand, having combined control will allow MLB and its teams to do a whole lot more with their minor league clubs than they could before. It could wind up being a very good thing for the fans in the long run. On the other hand, centralizing control in these situations reduces the number of stakeholders in the long-term life of the sport. I don’t want to just think about MLB here, since it’s baseball that matters most in the long run. Having more people intimately tied to the survival and well-being of the sport, in communities all across the country, is unquestionably a good thing. And this move likely reduces that.
The next public acknowledgment is probably going to be the official word on just how reduced MiLB is going to be next year. We know that MLB has wanted to reduce the number of affiliates from 160 to 120, and it’s now just a matter of getting that announcement. That will mean just four affiliated minor league teams per organization – AAA, AA, High-A, and Low-A – plus the team-owned-and-operated rookie league and DSL teams. It will likely also mean dramatic realignment in the minor leagues, since there won’t be short-season leagues anymore, and there’s going to be a push to get better geographic fits in place.
For the Cubs, we haven’t heard of any anticipated changes among the affiliates, but if short-season Low-A goes away, that means the Eugene Emeralds would probably become a full-season team in Low-A. And, since I highly doubt the Cubs would ditch South Bend at this point, that might mean the Emeralds will be part of a new organization. As for the High-A Myrtle Beach Pelicans, the AA Tennessee Smokies, and the AAA Iowa Cubs, I wouldn’t anticipate changes, but I guess you never know.