Major League Baseball has embarked on a strategic overhaul of the minor league system in the past year. MLB and the commissioner’s office has brought the entire development system under the MLB umbrella, presuming that with streamlined efforts, more coherent operations, and synergistic organizational strategies, MLB can better leverage the vast network of affiliates to grow interest in the game – and thereby, of course, grow revenue(s).
Rather than have each affiliated team function as an independent entity, signing contracts with Major League clubs on a contract-by-contract basis, MLB has finished its restructuring so that each ML franchise now has four affiliates – one each for the Triple-A, Double-A, High-A, and Low-A levels – totaling 120 minor league teams, as laid out by J.J. Cooper of Baseball America.
A standardized system makes a certain amount of sense. Baseball’s expansive development network, after all, sets it apart from other major North American sports, and this new strategy allows MLB to better leverage that network to build popularity and grab eyeballs.
The draft, for example, has long been a source of consternation for some, as the event draws significant viewership in basketball and football, while baseball’s equivalent event pales in comparison. The NFL and NBA, of course, have much shorter timetables for promoting those players to the top league. It takes many years for most recent draftees to reach the Show. And yet, the popularity of college sports, drafts, and the rising prevalence of prospect knowledge in baseball suggest there is genuine interest in following players before they reach the summit.
Thus, MLB recently announced their newly formed MLB Draft League, which simultaneously looks to create some of that buzz for the players in the draft, while keeping organized baseball in some of the minor league cities shut out by the restructuring. It will be a 6-team league in the Mid-Atlantic with a 68-game schedule to showcase the talent available in the July draft (formerly in June).
While that sounds well and good, the owners of minor league franchises aren’t particularly pleased with their new arrangement, writes the Athletic’s Evan Drellich. It’s not hard to see why. With the standardization of the minor league system came the elimination of 43 franchises from their ranks. MLB is also shortening the season and moving many clubs from one league to another as they see fit, as noted in this piece by the Athletic’s Jen McCaffrey and Chad Jennings.
Drellich provides specifics that showcase further the effect to which MLB is using its considerable influence to shepherd these minor league franchises exactly where they want them. Per Drellich, MLB has sent out a 56-page Professional Development License that amounts to a preview of the 10-year contract they’re being asked to sign. From Drellich:
To move forward, MLB requires minor league owners to sign two things in the next week and a half: a non-disclosure agreement and an indemnification of MLB. To emphasize: Minor league owners at this point are not formally agreeing to be MLB’s partner. That comes once the actual PDL is reviewed. So the decision those teams face now, then, seems simple: if they’re considering a lawsuit against MLB, they’d be signing away those rights in order to review the full PDL.
Clubs have different concerns, and with the MiLB essentially dissolving, there’s less and less cohesion, making it difficult for these clubs to form opposition. Minor League Baseball’s Board of Trustees still exists, notes Drellich, and they’re one potential leader in an organizing effort, but they’re not the only potential path. Ultimately, the more options, the more roadblocks, especially since these clubs are being asked to sign the PDL by December 18th. MLB, for its part, is planning a leadership council as part of the conditions of the PDL, but the commissioner’s office will maintain unilateral control.
Drellich lays out many more details of the proposed plan, and his piece is a must-read. Lawsuits are likely to follow in some form or fashion – this saga isn’t done yet. That said, MLB’s influence is overwhelming. And to their credit, not to suggest they are “pure of heart” or purpose, but MLB does ultimately want to make more money for and with these franchises, which at the very least, is an objective they share with minor league owners. From that perspective, MLB’s decision to “join forces” with MiLB seems sound.
Only, MiLB doesn’t really exist anymore, and MLB is actually dealing with independent business owners. Agency is no small sticking point, and minor league clubs are being pushed to sign away theirs in order to remain a part of the MLB superstructure. Their response – individually and collectively – is the next step in the process.
Our the Arizona leagues still a thing?
Yes. The AFL will stick around. I don’t think that was ever under the MILB umbrella. There’s also going to be a rookie league for teams that want to have a fifth affiliate. That’s from Derrick Goold, STL PD.
The AFL was (and presumably will be) run by MLB.
The complex-based rookie leagues (Gulf Coast League and Arizona League) will still exist, as those are already overseen by MLB.
What about Dominican Summer leagues? I know several orgs have two Dominican teams.
they took away our beloved frederick keys
Yes, but the Keys will be a part of the MLB Draft League. So that’s something!
Totally unfair. The Keys led the league in attendance and are being shoved aside in favor of far less deserving towns.
Lord. Nobody’s ever going to care about the MLB draft. EVER. For several reasons.
-It takes years for players to get from draft ready to major league ready, an often they’re no longer with the team that drafted them when they do reach the big leagues.
-There are far more busts than booms in MLB.
-Baseball isn’t Football or Basketball. One player can’t turn a franchise around. If a single prospect could, the Angels would be a perennial contender instead of hapless incompetents.
No, sorry, you can’t do with the MLB draft what the NFL and NBA are able to do. It’s quite literally impossible.
The playing with the draft and the playing with MiLB, be it good or bad, is just another example of MLB’s efforts to increase profitability without actually having to put some effort into making the sport better.
All your points are true. I’d add another which is that there are no draft day trades. That’s always part of the intrigue and usually leads to at least one big deal in each of the other sports.
Not put some effort into it?!!! This is a complete restructuring. I can’t think of anything that would require MORE effort. This has required a vast amount of planning, both with the minor league teams and cities for park and facility upgrades, and legally to do it in a way that will discourage lawsuits and damages by those not included.
As to the draft, no, it wont/can’t be like the NFL or NBA. There are still lots of ways to improve from what it currently is. For those of us that do follow it, the upgrade will be appreciated!
I like the MLB draft! I was taught to not use absolutes. I follow all the minor league teams for my team. Baseball is unique in that you can get a superstar or an everyday player from anywhere in the draft. If they get traded I will follow them for a while there as well. Especially if it is a prospect I like. Such as Jordan Groshans for the Jays. I expect him to be traded and I will follow him once he is traded.
kreckert and JDGoat weren’t saying there is no interest in the MLB draft. They are saying these restructuring moves will not enhance interest in the draft as suggested by TC/MLB (difficult to tell which), for the accurate reasons they state. Face it: the MLB draft is an obscure event that interests a small percentage of baseball fans, and it will remain that, even with the restructuring..
i agree i’m a die hard mlb fan but draft day is not an event i have circled on my calendar. another problem with the mlb draft is how unknown most of these kids are. yes top college guys get some exposure but the top hs kids don’t unless you live in the state the hs plays in. hard to get excited about a hs kid that the only thing you know is what is written a few days before the draft
MLB doesn’t want to make money for the minor league teams, they want to make more money for themselves. Any money the minor league cities can make would be purely incidental.
Rob Manfred is Reverse King Midas.
I’m not the guy to run with, cause I’ll throw you off the line. I’ll break you and destroy you given time…
For Love of the Game
The Hollies…”King Midas In Reverse.” Gosh we’re old!
Great song, though…
That song led to Graham Nash leaving the Hollies. He insisted on releasing it, the rest thought it sucked. I personally liked it, but it topped out at 86 on Billboard.
I’ve been following this for a while, and while I despise MLB’s power grab of the minors, I do see some sense of reorganizing for like geographic purposes, tighter circuits and so on. But the 119 initial proposal keeps so many of the affiliations in tact. Like, I live in Connecticut, and sure, the team in Norwich is a relic of the past. It doesn’t make sense for a Detroit affiliate of all things. But to kill that and keep the Rockies in Hartford, Giants in Richmond VA etc. seems like geographical logistics didn’t have much to do with it. They obviously wanted to kill and repurpose the least purposeful league. I’m not sure ultimately how much power the MLB orgs have in determining their partner affiliations but I think at the very least the Red Sox could have kept Lowell in that new High A league with the Yanks being in Hudson Valley and Mets in Brooklyn, and keep all their teams in the region, which I know was more of a priority for some clubs. I just feel like this power grab as awful as it has been in many ways, suffers for almost not going far enough. If Manfred is going to Stalinize things he could have at the end of the day actually made more legitimate cost-effective measures and relocations.
What bothers me the most about this charade is how it expands the monopoly that baseball enjoys already. I don’t see how some politician down the road isn’t going to raise a stink about this. That’s my first thought. I also think it could open up baseball to increased competition from independent operations if they are able to siphon off fans to a less expensive product. Baseball is not really addressing the issues here, just trying to close ranks and increase revenue. And yet I don’t see a synergy effect, so really, no increase at all.
Ducky Buckin Fent
“I don’t see how some politician down the road isn’t going to raise a stink about this.”
But that pretty much goes for everything, uh?
We live in Stink Raising Times, mon ami.
“…with streamlined efforts, more coherent operations, and synergistic organizational strategies, MLB can better leverage the vast network…” Clearly TC Zencka has done time in a corporate office of some kind. We used to clap every time someone used both “leverage” and “synergy” in the same sentence.
We drink when they do on Zoom calls now.
Just disrupting the paradigm.
Baseball used to be a great sport, I grew up watching in the 60’s and 70’s and the game, the sport is so much different today. I don’t like it anymore.
Someone who grew up in the 30s and 40s would make the same complaint about the supposedly golden era you revere. Everyone has those warm fuzzy memories of things they loved when they were younger but it only has to do with you and your perceptions, there’s nothing objective about it. Older folks would tell you the Free Agency that came into existence during the 60s and 70s ruined the game.
My father (and his few friends) grew up in the 40’s, feel the same way because baseball has changed over the past several years. You listen to many old players, and they say the same thing. It’s a different game now. It has nothing to do with my generation or my fathers generation, .
For Love of the Game
What hasn’t changed over the past 50-100 years? The Detroit Lions still suck, but what else remains the same?
My dad was born in the 50s and loves baseball now just as much as he ever did. The point is that it is your opinion that baseball is worse now and that opinion is shared by some but not all of the people who grew up watching the baseball you did. Pointing out that there are many older people who think things are worse now than they used to be doesn’t prove anything. They used to play without fences and it was frowned upon for pitchers too try to strike people out. Baseball has continually changed since its birth and will continue to do so.
I was born in the 50s and baseball is worse now and I’ll tell you why.
In 2019, the team with the least strikeouts by their pitchers was the Royals with 1230., In 1973 the pitching staff with the most strikeouts was the Mets at 1027.
The lack of contact has changed the game for the worse.
Halo11 I agree. I was born in the 60s and and this is not the same game it was even 20 years ago. It was really brought home during the beginning of the pandemic when the MLB Network was showing all the old games. It’s not just people feeling nostalgic.
The time of the game has made it unbearable. Give me a game that starts right after dinner and is over in 2 and a half hours. I get up at 5 AM seven days a week. I don’t have time for this nonsense. Play the game under the sun on the weekends. I know it’s all about money and that’s why the game has decayed.
No one is making you go to a game. Stop the whining. People like you are destroying baseball
Agree, not much in game besides strikeouts, walks and homerun. Triples are the most exciting plays and they are rare.
Its not the length of the game that makes the game less enjoyable for some. Its what Halo said. Its the lack of balls in play. That means as fans we are seeing less action. HR. SO, BB. The three true outcomes is all we get to see anymore.
Ducky Buckin Fent
I’m a decade behind you, @bowadoyle but, yeah, it is different.
I still enjoy it. But it needs to be viewed a little differently. I understand the aesthetics have changed. A great deal. Wether or not that’s for the better is certainly open to debate. To me it’s still a great game, man. So I still enjoy it.
If that’s not your deal I get it though
The bullying tactics by MLB continue.
Even if one is fully on board with whatever the realignment looks like, and whatever the financial arrangements are, MLB demanding that MiLB teams give up their right to contest their yet undetermined arrangements in court is a despicable power grab.
I really hope that Minor league owners, players, and communities rise up in unison to take on the MLB bully.
It’s like the old school union busting by the monopoly tycoons of 100-150 years ago.
Break apart MiLB. Divide and isolate.
Then you can force your changes down their throat and they can’t band together to stop you.
Let’s look at what baseball has done over the past 50 years to make more money.
Oh yeah, let players use PED’s.
Jenrry Mejia totally agrees…
You forgot rule changes and smaller dimensions to boost offense.
DH TV contracts and merch
I don’t know why anyone gets surprised when the groups with all the money that society has allowed to accumulate like MLB and the NHL (who are now buying vaccines to skip the line) throw their weight around.
It’s just laughable to a certain extent….you let these groups get wildly rich, and then expect them to do the “right thing” out of the goodness of their hearts?
I don’t really care at this point, it would be nice though if people could just try to be more consistent with their outrage.
In Detroit, the auto companies required their suppliers to accommodate their just in time inventory requirements to remain a supplier. Many had to actually relocate facilities to keep their business. Some decided to not comply and lost the business from the big 3. I don’t see a whole lot of difference here, except that the auto cos. put it all on the suppliers and didn’t work with them to comply.
The difference is the automakers didn’t require the suppliers to sign an immunity agreement waiving all legal rights before seeing the proposed changes to their relationship.
what i dont get is the GCL and AZL teams seem to be sticking around, yet they keep saying 120. i dont get it.
Yeah, it doesn’t mention the rookie leagues.
GCL and AZL, I believe, are already owned and operated by MLB, so they don’t factor into the 120 teams.
That’s what I read someplace, don’t take my word for it, but I’m about 80% sure that’s what I read.
That is correct. GCL and AZL aren’t separately owned minor league franchises, if that makes sense. These teams consist mostly of lower level organizational players who participated in extended spring training.
Now pay them a reasonable salary.
that’s probably the real goal here. not save net money but pay the guys more to avoid a lawsuit while eliminating some jobs to not have to pay more overall.
The MLB draft will never reach NFL/NBA levels. But the main reason is public familiarity with draftees. With NFL/NBA, we’ve seen the draftees play for multiple seasons on nationally televised games, and are discussed ad nauseum on sports talk tv/radio. A large percentage of MLB prospects come out of high school or overseas, and while some come from college, college baseball doesn’t have the same national following. MLB is never going to get fans to watch a night of calling names we’ve mostly never heard of
I think if college baseball could figure out a way to be more popular that might help.
You also don’t have the pageantry aspect with so many draftees.
Football, basketball, etc you have professional broadcast footage of many draftees to play when watching them.
How many prep academy or high school games are professionally recorded and broadcast to show in action highlight reels of the players?
You want the interest level? Force MLB prospects to attend minimum 2 or 4 years in the ncaa before drafting. Increase the quality and popularity of ncaa baseball over time with better players. THEN those will be better known names, and people will pay more attention in the draft having a better connection to those prospects.
Lawyer up. Lawyer on deck.
Rudy has several more potential clients….
I don’t see Rudy representing the little guy.
You have to sign the bill to see what’s in it.
I hate Manfred.
Is the NY-Penn league going to remain affiliated with MLB? I see the teams are there but where will they get players? The Tigers cut the CT Tigers out. They’re now called the Norwich Sea Unicorns and their website still says they’re affiliated with Detroit, but the Tigers just announced they are going with just Toledo, Erie, West Michigan and Lakeland along with their rookie Gulf Coast and Dominican development teams.
The NY-Penn league is gone. Aberdeen, Brooklyn & Hudson Valley are moving to the High A Mid Atlantic League. Mahoning Valley, State College, West Virginia & Williamsport are moving to the new summer collegiate MLB Draft League. Vermont is rumored to be moving to the independent Frontier League. Staten Island has ceased operations. No word yet on the fate of Auburn, Batavia, Norwich or Tri-City.
I read an article with an interview with the Auburn GM, they sound like they plan on joining either an Indy league or an already established college summer league
will they finally address the pitiful wages that minor league players receive?
By getting rid of tons of minor leaguers
I don’t think it’s MLB’s fault the draft isn’t as popular, it’s more so that college baseball isn’t as popular as college football or basketball. If the NCAA can figure out a way to get college baseball to be more popular then maybe more people would watch the draft.
Hard to be more popular when the best players bypass you and get drafted right out of high school.
1) NCAA needs to pay its athletes (all sports) to start considering how much the organization earns.
2) you need to incentivize the top HS/Prep talent not to bypass you, or, prohibit them from doing so.
There ARE talented athletes in ncaa… don’t get me wrong. BUT, the cream of the crop bypass them every year and that doesn’t help.
For Love of the Game
Each minor league team has/had a player development contract with their parent team. If all of them expired, none of the MiLB clubs have a leg to stand on. However, if they haven’t expired, they can’t be forced into anything, can they? Anybody know about this?
Many of the PDCs had not expired yet, but the Professional Baseball Agreement between MLB and Minor League Baseball expired at the end of the 2020 season.
For Love of the Game
Thanks. So some minor league clubs could possibly enforce an agreement with the parent club, but the overall structure expired. interesting.
One thing that is consistent with this and all MLB policy changes. The fans are nowhere in the discussion! Without paying customers MLB and Minor League baseball would not last one season! They could give a rats behind about these cities and towns and the millions of fans and generations of families who have supported these clubs for decades!
Have you ever lived in a minor league city? I’ve lived in two. A Double A and Triple A franchise. So few fans actually care about the teams.
The Double A team was not even affiliated with a Major League team. They ended operation in 1998 and no one cared.
Ive been in New Orleans with the zephyrs and Burlington with the lake monsters. Closer to the atl braves than gwinnett braves. Was about 20 minutes away from the Pawtucket Red Sox who were beloved and felt betrayed by the decision to relocate without a chance to upgrade/match things there.
Those towns and regions LOVED their teams with a loyal community following, and, with respect to the first two, NEITHER has access to MLB clubs.
So yes, it depends. No, they won’t draw 30,000 a night. But yes, they are respectively important to baseball in the entire region.
It’s 6-7 hours to get to Boston from burlington. Longer to NYC. And an international border into Canada with another long drive.
For all their ‘outreach’ they’re killing MLB/MiLB’s presence anywhere in that region for example.
There hasn’t been an unaffiliated AA team since the early 70s, and no AA team folded in the late 90s.
Yes! Several. The fact that you live in a dud baseball town only reflects on your town!
Well, they just went a year without paying customers, so… Lets see how they last.
No they did not! Fans in the stands is at the bottom of their income stream!
What a shame it is that MLB doesn’t partner with the Caribbean and Mexican leagues and broadcast baseball year round. It’s criminal to watch a game on Spanish television and see Roberto Clemente stadium almost empty. So many teams send players there to play winter ball.
I’ve read they are working on a partnership with the Mexican league at least like they have with the Indy leagues
This really needed to happen
These changes are good for everyone involved. For the minor league teams, they will have stability finally. These new agreements are for at least 10 years. Plus, the affiliations make more geographic sense. These changes will allow the local minor league fans to have more an attachment with their MLB parent clubs which will generate even more fan interest.
For major league teams, This allows for better involvement in how things are run across their affiliates.
For the minor league players, closer to an actual living wage, less travel and better facilities, which will hopefully involve less injuries.
Great job MLB
As for the comments about baseball being a different game now, what isn’t? Football and basketball certainly aren’t. I’m not suggesting they’ve all changed for the better, that’s a different discussion. My point simply is change is constant, across a lot more organizations than just baseball/
Change is constant… but there seems to be a contingent of people who think that changes are automatically beneficial simply because they’re changes.
Do MLB teams not want Lower A or Rookie Leagues to anymore? Is there a place for those teams at all? Maybe as independent leagues?
There was discussion of using them as unaffiliated “dream leagues”, but we haven’t heard any updates on that in a few months.
Seems like more players without minor league jobs, and more places that have stadiums and a history of supporting teams
A good recipe for more independent league ball.
Rob Manfred is trying to kill off Minor League Baseball because there is NO OTHER REASON for teams to burn bridges with their minor league affiliates.
The Minor League in my area have teams with Stadium’s that are not the best & are able to keep going & there are teams with top of the line Stadium’s who are being thrown to the wolves.
Rob Manfred prime objective is to destroy any semblance of the Traditional Game & the Minor League Baseball.
They moved the California League from high A to low A and moved the NW League to high A. They’re supposed to pay players in high A more than low A. This seems like it’ll be harder on low A players.