10:11 pm: Passan tweets that the union is planning to reject MLB’s proposal to possibly shrink the number of minor league roster spots. He adds that the MLBPA has declined similar offers by the league in the past.
8:29 pm: Major League Baseball put forth its latest collective bargaining proposal last weekend. Among the provisions included in that broad offer: a clause that would allow the commissioner’s office to reduce the amount of minor league roster spots available to teams in future seasons, according to a report from Jeff Passan of ESPN.
Currently, teams are permitted to carry up to 180 minor league players in their organizations during the season; that number expands to 190 over the offseason (not including the Dominican Summer League). According to Passan, MLB’s proposal would leave that 180-player limit in place for the upcoming season but would provide the league the flexibility to set the limit of minor leaguers per club at under 150 players at some point during the term of the next CBA. Passan hears from a league source that they’re not currently envisioning cuts to minor league membership at any point in 2023 but value the opportunity to implement stricter roster limits down the line.
MLB has made efforts to contract the minor leagues over the past few years. Over the 2019-20 offseason (prior to the start of the pandemic), the league eliminated 42 teams from affiliated ball, turning them into independent clubs or amateur summer ball teams. As part of the COVID-19 protocols, the league shrank the 2020 first-year player draft from 40 to five rounds. It was set at 20 rounds last year, and Passan writes that the league and union agreed last July to keep a 20-round draft in place going forward.
MLB’s proposal could affect different organizations to varying extents. Passan reports that five franchises currently roster more than 180 MiLB players, while two already have fewer than 150. Given that wide discrepancy in roster count between teams, there’s certainly some logic in tighter regulations to balance the field. Yet MLB no doubt also values the potential to reduce the number of minor league roster spots for cost-cutting reasons. Stricter limits on the number of spots available, if implemented, could involve many or all organizations having to release players.
Whether the Major League Baseball Players Association will sign off on changes to the minor league roster setup remains to be seen. Minor league players are not members of the MLBPA, nor are they members of a union of their own. Yet the MLBPA does play a role in some decisions involving amateur or minor league players. In addition to the aforementioned league-union agreement on cutting draft rounds, the parties have also discussed the possible implementation of a draft lottery, for example.
The treatment of minor league players is an issue that has garnered a fair bit of attention in recent years. The league suggested that improving conditions for remaining minor leaguers provided a compelling justification for cutting teams in the first place. Whether they’ve indeed made significant enough strides to justify those cuts has been a matter of debate. The league is requiring teams to provide housing for their farmhands, starting next season. Yet there remain concerns about the sufficiency of player pay during the season, and MLB continues to battle to keep minor league Spring Training unpaid.