Yesterday, MLBTR relayed news that Major League Baseball is pursuing a “radical restructuring” of the lower minor-leagues, with reports indicating that the league is proposing the elimination of roughly one-quarter of current affiliate teams. While deputy commissioner Dan Halem framed these potential changes as being to the benefit of MiLB ballplayers (being that a reorganization would, in theory, allow for better pay, upgraded facilities, and streamlined travel accommodations), it does not sound as if officials from Minor League Baseball are on board with this proposed sea change.
In a report for The Athletic, writer Evan Drellich says an “enormous chasm” exists between MLB and MiLB as the two seek to organize a new working arrangement (link). MLB’s move toward en masse affiliate contraction does not sit well with MiLB, with MiLB President Pat O’Conner revealing that legal action is a possibility if a return to the bargaining table does not produce a more mutually appealing proposal.
“If we are forced to defend ourselves and fight for our mere survival, we will,” O’Conner told Drellich. “We would hope to negotiate a reasonable settlement with MLB. Short of that we have multiple options. Appealing to Congress, state, county and local elected officials is certainly one of them.” It is worth noting that legal action is characterized as a “last resort” in Drellich’s report.
Drellich also gives equal time to Halem, with the deputy commish reiterating the proposal’s intended benefits toward player working conditions–including increased wages. Halem also asserts that the introduction of advanced analytics and scouting methods have reduced the viability of maintaining such a deep stack of affiliate clubs, since 95% of players drafted after the 25th round never reach the majors. The implications here are interesting, with Halem suggesting the effective value of lower-level teams has decreased as MLB clubs have improved in the location and development of premier talent. “It is a tough sell to tell Major League Clubs that they need to hire more players than they may need in order to provide free labor to the minor league clubs,” Halem states.
For a complete history of the centuries-spanning working arrangement between MLB teams and their affiliates, Baseball America’s JJ Cooper details the oft-contentious process involved in maintaining a talent development pipeline that is unique among major American sports (link). The working arrangement that binds the two entities, entitled the Professional Baseball Agreement, is set to expire after the 2020 season.