Sept. 25: Both the American Association and the Frontier League have indeed been introduced as formal “partner leagues” as well, MLB has announced. The league’s press release indicates that both will “collaborate with MLB on initiatives to provide organized baseball to communities throughout the United States and Canada.”
“We welcome the American Association and Frontier Leagues as Partner Leagues, and look forward to working with them toward our shared goal of expanding the geographic reach of baseball,” Sword said in a new statement.
Sept. 23: Major League Baseball on Wednesday announced that the independent Atlantic League has been officially designated as MLB’s first “partner league.” As a partner league, the Atlantic League will “meet regularly with MLB to discuss joint marketing and promotional opportunities, including the leagues’ shared goal of providing baseball to communities throughout the United States,” per the press release announcing the partnership.
There was already an existing relationship between MLB and the Atlantic League, which has in recent years been a testing ground for experimental MLB rules such as the extra-innings runner on second base, pitch clocks, larger bases and even automated strike zones. Today’s agreement not only expands that relationship but extends the arrangement through the 2023 season.
“We are excited to extend our relationship with the Atlantic League, which provides us a unique means to push the sport forward,” MLB executive vice president of baseball economics and operations Morgan Sword said in a statement within the release. “The Atlantic League clubs and players have been great partners to us as we jointly test ways to make our game even more interesting and engaging to fans.”
The Athletic’s Evan Drellich reported this morning that MLB had been pursuing agreements not only with the Atlantic League but also with other high-profile independent leagues, including the American Association and the Frontier League. Minor league team owners who spoke with Drellich expressed trepidation that such partnerships could be used as leverage by MLB in ongoing talks with MiLB about a new Professional Baseball Agreement between the two parties.
It’s also possible that some clubs that are cut in the inevitable, broad-reaching contraction of the lower-level minor leagues could land in the Atlantic League or other newly appointed “partner leagues,” per Drellich. A timeline on additional agreements with the American Association, Frontier League or other indie circuits isn’t clear, but the PBA between Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball expires next week.