Major League Baseball is pursuing a “radical restructuring” of the lower minor-leagues, according to a report from David Waldstein of the New York Times. While the precise nature of the new arrangement isn’t yet written in stone, it certainly sounds as if significant change is all but inevitable.
Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper has yet more detail on the proposal, which could eliminate approximately one quarter of present minor-league affiliates. Numerous existing leagues would be reorganized in various manners to meet the various proposed goals.
Generally, the league seems to be pursuing a global rationalization and modernization of a system that came together over a long period of time in a somewhat ad hoc manner. There are surely some worthwhile goals in such an effort.
As deputy MLB commissioner Dan Halem puts it in his pitch, the aims include: “upgrading the minor league facilities that we believe have inadequate standards for potential MLB players, improving the working conditions for MiLB players, including their compensation, improving transportation and hotel accommodations, providing better geographic affiliations between major league clubs and their affiliates, as well as better geographic lineups of leagues to reduce player travel.”
There’d assuredly be costs here as well, beginning with the elimination of numerous independently owned ballclubs from the affiliated ranks. The concept would involve some of those teams in some form of “dream league” for undrafted players, though MLB and Minor League Baseball would own and operate the teams. It certainly sounds as if these proving grounds might also threaten the talent pipeline available to current indy ball outfits.
Notably, Minor League Baseball has advised its member teams against investing in any manner that relies upon a continuation of the existing arrangement beyond the 2020 season. That seems to be a fair indication of the seriousness of the principal actors here, even if there’s still uncertainty in the ultimate vision.
This effort has long been in the works. Commissioner Rob Manfred has certainly hinted previously at the possibility of major change, including in comments to Evan Drellich of The Athletic (subscription link) earlier this year. “I think that everybody understands that we have to look at the efficiency of the system that we’re running right now, how many teams, how many players, what we’re paying players, and all those issues are obviously related,” Manfred said.