There has been an ongoing negotiation between Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball officials. For the most part, these negotiations have played out as a war of words played out through the media. Both have tried to frame the narrative of the discussions to strengthen their hand at the table.
The discussions center around a proposal put forward by the MLB to reduce the amount of Minor League teams by 42. This proposal has plenty of ramifications for MLB, MiLB and for baseball in general. To fully comprehend these consequences we need to unpack the reasons for the proposal, as well as what both sides of officials are trying to achieve.
Background to the proposal
Over the past few years, there have been many factors that have brought us to this point. Almost all have to do with finances, others with legislation. Baseball news outlets have covered a myriad of these contributing factors, but they can be put down to two main points of contention: salaries and renewing the Professional Baseball Agreement (PBA).
For context, there are 160 teams in the MiLB leagues and many of them have quality professional players. In 2018, Congress passed an amendment which classified minor league players as ‘seasonal workers’. The impact of this is that minor league players no longer qualified for minimum wage. This has resulted in many players feeling underpaid for the number of hours that they put into their careers.
The infrastructure in the minor leagues has also been a source of concern. The current general agreement with the MLB and the affiliate teams in the MiLB is that the MLB teams cover the players and coach wages, whereas the MiLB covers the infrastructure and operations of the team. Some arenas haven’t been able to modernize with the times due to the lack of funds available.
For many owners, one of the assurances given to purchase an arena was the PBA. Others were bought or built with taxpayer money. This agreement ensures the connection between the MLB teams and their affiliates. Crucially, this agreement is expiring at the end of the 2020 season, which means that officials from both sides are currently at the negotiating table. This is where the MLB officials made the proposal to cull the amount of MiLB teams.
Which teams would be removed?
The MLB put through a proposal that most notably called for the elimination of 42 teams from the minor leagues. The teams cited are as follows:
|Double A||High class A||Low class A||Short season||Rookie|
|Binghamton Rumble Ponies||Lancaster JetHawks||Beloit Snappers||Auburn Doubledays||Billings Mustangs|
|Chattanooga Lookouts||Daytona Tortugas||Burlington Bees||Batavia Muckdogs||Bluefield Blue Jays|
|Erie SeaWolves||Florida Fire Frogs||Clinton LumberKings||Connecticut Tigers||Bristol Pirates|
|Jackson Generals||Frederick Keys||Lexington Legends||Lowell Spinners||Burlington Royals|
|Hagerstown Suns||Mahoning Valley Scrappers||Danville Braves|
|West Virginia Power||Salem-Keizer Volcanoes||Elizabethton Twins|
|State College Spikes||Grand Junction Rockies|
|Staten Island Yankees||Great Falls Voyagers|
|Tri-City Dust Devils||Greeneville Reds|
|Vermont Lake Monsters||Idaho Falls Chukars|
|Williamsport Crosscutters||Johnson City Cardinals|
|Rocky Mountain Vibes|
The MLB officials are in a tricky situation. As they were the one to table the proposal, they have had to deal with scrutiny over their motives. The MLB owners are some of the wealthiest people in the world, and as a result, the first assumption is that the incentive is financial.
The MLB has firmly denied that the proposal was based purely on financial reasons. They have cited the quality of the infrastructure and the wages on offer as a problem they are hoping to solve.
With fewer teams, there will be more money available for player and coach salaries. This funding could go towards ensuring the quality of the minor leagues is not as far off from the MLB. As can be seen from the 42 teams, 17 come from the Rookie leagues and 11 come from Short Season leagues.
Another reason for reducing the number of teams is to ramp up the competitive nature of the minor leagues. The hope is that with fewer teams, the competition will be fiercer, and the players better.
There has been negative sentiment towards the proposal from many baseball news sites. This is in part due to elements of the negotiations being leaked to the media. On the back foot, the MLB has had to try to turn public opinion in their favor. In this day and age, this is an unenviable task.
The MiLB is not happy with the proposal to drop the 42 teams. They have already had strong backing from the public and government officials. This public support is essential as they don’t have as strong a bargaining power as the MLB officials do.
For the most part, their concerns are that removing these teams will break baseball history and remove the game from certain communities. Some areas would lose their only baseball team and would need to drive several hours to watch a professional game.
A second concern is the amount of money that the minor league owners have invested in their teams. This would destroy the value of these teams, representing a big financial loss for the owners. In instances where arenas were built on taxpayers’ money, you could also predict an immense public backlash.
The MiLB would like to rather keep the teams and put stricter infrastructure requirements in place. This will ensure that the communities keep their teams and that the quality meets the standards requested by the MLB.
Despite the infrastructure shortcomings, the attendance of MLB games has been on the decrease, whereas the attendance at MiLB games has increased.
At the moment the proposal looks set to be signed off. Should this happen, what will the outcomes be? Of course, the initial outcome would be that there are 42 fewer teams in the minor league, but some effects will go beyond the league itself.
Depreciate the national pastime
Regardless of the incentives to improve the leagues or to pay players more, the biggest impact this will have is removing professional baseball from communities across the US. This might only be felt over a decade though as children grow up without being exposed to professional baseball.
For many in government, this will be a difficult pill to swallow. This is especially the case where taxpayer money has been invested in infrastructure for the team. It will make the MLB unpopular in pockets around the US and this sentiment is likely to spread when news of $300,000,000 contracts are all over the baseball news circuit.
High odds on integrity fee
The MLB has been at the forefront alongside the NBA in lobbying for integrity fees in sports betting. As legal online sports betting spreads through the States, a question of tax becomes more and more apparent.
The integrity fee is a proposed percentage that goes to the MLB from sports betting winnings. If you place a wager on sports betting lines for your local team at the worst or best online sportsbook, the MLB would like to be entitled to a percentage of that wager.
As online sports betting continues to grow in popularity, the MLB could stand to earn from the popularity of the league. Currently, you can find a comprehensive list of sports betting odds for all things MLB on a respected online sports betting site. This includes sports betting lines on players and teams.
There is also precedent for the integrity fee. In France and Australia, all sports betting picks are liable for an integrity fee. To a degree it is understandable. Were it not for the quality and investment in the league, the appeal would be less and there would be fewer punters at the online sportsbooks. On the other hand, the legal online sports betting industry is completely (hopefully) separate from the actual teams.
At the end of the day, an integrity fee needs to be passed into law. An unforeseen outcome for the new PBA is that removing teams from communities could turn government sentiment against the MLB.
If removing professional baseball teams from communities costs the MLB the integrity fee, it could be a short-sighted decision. Online sports betting is continuing to grow in popularity and would represent a massive revenue stream for the league. People have been making sports betting picks for centuries, and will likely continue to do so for centuries to come.
What’s the odds?
The ongoing discussions between the MiLB and MLB are drawing an increasing amount of public scrutiny. It might be that the MLB negotiates on culling less teams and ensuring that communities are not stripped of their professional baseball.
If you were punting on an online sportsbook, you might put your money on the MiLB, even though the sports betting odds are in the MLB’s favor. Until then, you can register with the best online sportsbook and predict the outcomes of this season.