MLB Plan To Overhaul MiLB Could Make Independent Teams Affiliates
MLB in its first proposal for the next Professional Baseball Agreement "presented a bundle of changes that includes eliminating" as many as 40 MiLB teams, "changing the classifications of others and making independent teams from St. Paul and Sugar Land, Texas, major league affiliates," according to John Shipley of the ST. PAUL PIONEER PRESS. Independent American Association St. Paul Saints Exec VP & GM Derek Sharrer said the proposal as it pertains to his team is "presumptive." He added that "no one from the Twins or MLB has talked to the Saints." Sharrer: "We believe in what independent baseball is about, the principles of independent baseball, and we're committed to it." Shipley noted the Saints "would seem to be an attractive option for the Twins" as an affiliate. The Twins' current Double-A team is in Pensacola, Fla., and their Triple-A team is in Rochester, N.Y. Twins President Dave St. Peter "declined to say whether the Twins are interested in having a minor league team in St. Paul" (ST. PAUL PIONEER PRESS, 10/20). Meanwhile, Saints Owner Mike Veeck said that MLB's interest in putting an affiliate in CHS Field was "news to him." Veeck: "I did hear that Houston (Astros) was pushing for this. Sugar Land is a suburb, and it has a nice ballpark, and it's having trouble continuing to play in the Atlantic League" (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 10/20).
COMPLETE REORGANIZATION: BASEBALL AMERICA's J.J. Cooper noted MLB also "wants to completely rework" the Professional Development Contracts process to "ensure that MLB clubs can be ensured of MiLB affiliates that meet their desires geographically." To do so, MLB wants to "eliminate the current two-year PDC process and replace it with much longer-lasting MLB-MiLB franchise agreements." The proposal also "completely reorganizes the full-season minor leagues." While there would still be Triple-A, Double-A, high Class A and low Class A, those four levels "would be completely reworked to make the leagues much more geographically compact." In Triple-A, the PCL would "shift from" 14 teams to 10. The Int'l League would "grow to 20 teams." The 14-team low Class A South Atlantic League would be "turned into a six-team league with a new Mid-Atlantic league springing up." Under MLB's proposal, some teams would be "asked to move from Class A to Triple-A." Others would be "asked to move from Triple-A to Class A, and there would be other less dramatic moves as well" (BASEBALLAMERICA.com, 10/18). In Boston, Michael Silverman noted each MLB franchise would be "limited to four U.S. based full-season franchises, plus one complex-based Rookie-league team" (BOSTON GLOBE, 10/19).
SEVERAL PROPOSALS BEING CONSIDERED: In N.Y., David Waldstein cited sources as saying that one plan that has been discussed would "convert some teams from the lower-level minor leagues -- short-season, rookie ball and lower Class A -- into a so-called Dream League of undrafted players looking to break into professional baseball." Teams in that league would be "co-owned and operated" by MLB and MiLB. Part of the proposal "could include a plan to cut the amateur draft in half, to 20 rounds, which would reduce the player pool by about 600 and subsequently eliminate the need for roughly 20 teams." But the proposal and others "met stiff resistance" from MiLB. MiLB President Pat O'Conner said, "We have told them that we don't see the Dream League as a viable alternative." However, many major league clubs "do not see the need for multiple levels of Class A teams." O'Conner said that the current proposed plan would "eliminate roughly 1,400 players, or change their status to employees of the minor league teams." MLB is "committed to a significant change because officials feel that about one-fourth of the minor league teams are not operating at a high-enough standard for modern athletes." MLB also is "under pressure to increase player compensation ... and is looking for a way to increase player wages, perhaps by as much" as 50%. That is "still below a rate sought by the complainants in the lawsuit" (N.Y. TIMES, 10/19).
WHICH TEAMS ARE IN DANGER? In Colorado Springs, Brent Briggeman noted the proposed changes to MiLB would leave lower-level teams like the short-season Rookie Advanced Pioneer League Rocky Mountain Vibes "potentially fighting for their existence." Vibes GM Chris Phillips was "quick to point out that Friday's report reflects only the beginning of what he anticipates will be drawn-out negotiations." Phillips said, "I am not concerned about the future of professional baseball in Colorado Springs. At all." Phillips pointed to the team's "established ties to a 'great market' and a 'great ballpark,' and said there could be a chance the Vibes could end up moving" to Single-A, Double-A or "even back to Triple-A by the time the new deal between MLB and its minor league affiliates are in place" (Colorado Springs GAZETTE, 10/19).