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Wednesday, May 20, 2020

‘The Wild West:’ MiLB Teams On Chopping Block Scramble To Find MLB Partner

When the two sides meet again, there is an expectation that MLB will have a term sheet, laying out which 120 teams will be part of full season baseball in 2021, and which leagues they will play in. They also will spell out the details of the license agreements that they are proposing to replace the current player development contract (PDC) process by which MLB teams and MiLB teams currently form affiliations.

MiLB teams are jockeying for safe landing spots in advance of the expected changes. While no agreement has been reached between Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball, both MLB clubs and MiLB owners are nearly universally operating under the expectation that there will be 120 full-season affiliated teams in 2021 whenever an agreement is reached. That would mean some 40 current MiLB teams will no longer be part of affiliated ball after this season.

Multiple MLB front office officials and multiple MiLB owners also said it is also their expectation that MLB will be in charge of directing affiliated Minor League Baseball in 2021 (even if no such agreement has yet been reached).

RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: May 20, 2020 at 10:19 AM | 26 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: minor league

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   1. Mayor Blomberg Posted: May 20, 2020 at 12:05 PM (#5952281)
well, they've great cover in COVID.
   2. Walt Davis Posted: May 20, 2020 at 05:57 PM (#5952477)
License agreements as opposed to player development contracts? Anybody know what that's about?
   3. Mayor Blomberg Posted: May 20, 2020 at 06:38 PM (#5952494)
Walt, it may concern some or all of the issues mentioned in this article from last fall.
   4. Walt Davis Posted: May 20, 2020 at 08:31 PM (#5952524)
Thanks but alas that didn't help me. It covers the issues at play but the closest it comes to explaining the difference between the current PDC and what MLB wants is that the current PDCs are renegotiated every two years and MLB is tired of that process, shifting affiliates geographically ... and of course creating competitive bidding among the MLB teams. So they are proposing a longer-term affiliation. If the only/main difference between a PDC and a "licensing agreement" is the term of the contract then, fine, it's just a new word for the same old thing (i.e. "license" = "5-year PDC" or whatever). I'm assuming there's something trickier involved though.
   5. greenback used to say live and let live Posted: May 20, 2020 at 08:36 PM (#5952525)
While no agreement has been reached between Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball, both MLB clubs and MiLB owners are nearly universally operating under the expectation that there will be 120 full-season affiliated teams in 2021 whenever an agreement is reached. That would mean some 40 current MiLB teams will no longer be part of affiliated ball after this season.

I thought I had been paying attention to this, but... weren't there exactly 120 full-season affiliated teams last year? IOW this is really about killing off almost all of the short-season leagues, and shifting some full-season teams to some of the more desirable locations presently occupied by short-season teams?
   6. John Northey Posted: May 21, 2020 at 02:44 AM (#5952562)
Wouldn't be shocked if more ML teams buy out minor league ones out of this. For most ML teams that would be ideal - owning their 4 minor league teams so there is no worries every 2 years of the team shifting locations, stadiums, whatever. I remember the headache as a Jays fan when they lost Syracuse and had to go to Vegas for AAA for a few years, then finally got a deal with the perfect partner in Buffalo.

For the Jays I suspect their 4 would be Buffalo (AAA), New Hampshire (AA), Dunedin (A+ and owned by the Jays), Vancouver (A- and in Canada thus part of the Jays marketing and I figure every team will want at least one short season team). Which would be sad for Lansing (full season A) as they are a good partner historically for the Jays. I'd expect to see the A and rookie leagues decimated.
   7. Rally Posted: May 21, 2020 at 07:58 AM (#5952571)
I thought I had been paying attention to this, but... weren't there exactly 120 full-season affiliated teams last year? IOW this is really about killing off almost all of the short-season leagues, and shifting some full-season teams to some of the more desirable locations presently occupied by short-season teams?


That confused me too. There were 120 full season teams last year, if they do the same next year that says nothing at all about what they are going to do with the short seaspn teams.
   8. Skloot Insurance Posted: May 21, 2020 at 02:21 PM (#5952695)
For the Jays I suspect their 4 would be Buffalo (AAA), New Hampshire (AA), Dunedin (A+ and owned by the Jays), Vancouver (A- and in Canada thus part of the Jays marketing and I figure every team will want at least one short season team). Which would be sad for Lansing (full season A) as they are a good partner historically for the Jays. I'd expect to see the A and rookie leagues decimated.


I would expect the Blue Jays to stay in Lansing or partner with another upper Midwest League affiliate.

If the Northwest League remains an eight-team league and reclassifies as Low A, then those eight affiliates will more than likely be reserved for West Coast organizations. That's a big part of planned minor league reorganization -- sensible geographical realignment that saves orgs money.

In other words, I expect the eight Western division teams (everyone except the Astros and Rangers) to have Northwest League affiliates "reserved" for them.
   9. Skloot Insurance Posted: May 21, 2020 at 02:25 PM (#5952697)
That confused me too. There were 120 full season teams last year, if they do the same next year that says nothing at all about what they are going to do with the short seaspn teams.


The Rookie advanced (Appalachian, Pioneer) and short-season Class A (New York-Penn, Northwest) levels will be eliminated.

The caveat is that the Northwest League will be reclassified as Low A and that desirable affiliates in shuttered leagues will be absorbed by other full-season leagues, e.g. Brooklyn would move to the Eastern League.

It's not clear whether the Northwest League would take on northern Pioneer League affiliates -- Billings, Mont., probably has the best facilities -- or which other Penn League teams might continue as affiliated full-season teams.
   10. Barry`s_Lazy_Boy Posted: May 21, 2020 at 02:37 PM (#5952700)
Longer term agreements would be better for everyone. Right now its a bad game of musical chairs every other year.

I like that teams are trending towards local affiliates. It should help their brand, growing more local fans that will drive into MLB cities every once in a while.
   11. Skloot Insurance Posted: May 21, 2020 at 02:54 PM (#5952708)
I like that teams are trending towards local affiliates. It should help their brand, growing more local fans that will drive into MLB cities every once in a while.


It's also wonderful for the organizations. It reduces travel costs not only to transfer players between affiliates but also for front office and player development personnel to more easily see the organization's entire system.
   12. Walt Davis Posted: May 21, 2020 at 05:37 PM (#5952771)
Longer term agreements would be better for everyone.

Except clearly the minor leagues disagree with this. MLB wants longer agreements so the lack of them must be what miLB wants. Doesn't make them correct of course and possibly it's a symptom of them putting short-term profits over longer-term stability but it seems the key factor in the dispute -- since the frequent renegotiation is a key factor in the geographic uncertainty. #6 touches on this -- the Jays didn't "lose" Syracuse, they chose not to pay Syracuse what some other team was willing to pay Syracuse, preferring to shift to Vegas instead. If Syracuse only gets to leverage its geographic desirability once every 5 years rather than once every 2, that's probably bad for their bottom line.

I don't buy the travel argument. Increased travel costs when shifting players across levels? Really? How much does a plane ticket from Wichita to Nashville cost (relative to Wilmington to Nashville) and how many times a year does a team have to pay that? Surely this is all on the order of a 6th-round signing bonus. Is it actually that much quicker/cheaper to get a player from Syracuse to Toronto than from Vegas to Toronto? (Do Canadians not go to Vegas? Surely there are planty of direct flights.)
   13. John Northey Posted: May 21, 2020 at 09:49 PM (#5952810)
The west coast/east coast thing makes sense in some respects but in Canada it is Jays country. Yeah, there are pockets of Tiger, Mariner, Yankee, Twins, etc. fans out there but TV ratings by far are dominated by Jays games. When the Jays are the affiliate with a team then that team has a shot but being affiliated with anyone else does little. Short season teams don't send players to other levels often - they generally are draft picks getting their feet wet - in a reduced minors I suspect that'll be even stronger. Thus a major center like Vancouver would only keep a short season team viable with the Jays or maybe, maybe, the Mariners as their partner. Any other organization would result in a quieter park.
   14. Scott Lange Posted: May 22, 2020 at 08:32 AM (#5952852)
I like that teams are trending towards local affiliates. It should help their brand, growing more local fans that will drive into MLB cities every once in a while.

There are upsides, but there are downsides too. A minor league team can be the crown jewel of a city and a focus of civic pride, or it can be an afterthought tucked behind a dying mall in a suburb where the only baseball team people are aware of is the nearby major league team. Is there anything more boring than the Gwinnett Braves?
   15. Crispix Attacksel Rios Posted: May 22, 2020 at 10:34 AM (#5952878)
The Gwinnett Braves are no more! They have done the merchandise-friendly rebrand like every other team, and are now the Gwinnett Stripers. They have the Seattle Seahawks color scheme and all their uniforms have fish and hooks on them.
   16. Crispix Attacksel Rios Posted: May 22, 2020 at 10:44 AM (#5952882)
I looked up which teams still use the same nickname as their major league affiliate. Hope I didn't miss any.

AAA
Syracuse Mets
Pawtucket/Worcester Red Sox
Iowa Cubs
Oklahoma City Dodgers

AA
Mississippi Braves
Springfield Cardinals

A-advanced
San Jose Giants
Fredericksburg Nationals
Salem Red Sox
Dunedin Blue Jays
St. Lucie Mets
Palm Beach Cardinals

A
South Bend Cubs
Rome Braves

Low-A
Staten Island Yankees
Every team in the Appalachian League

The Indianapolis Indians and Spokane Indians aren't Indians affiliates, they've just been called the Indians for 70 years for local reasons.

Conclusions:
- The next to change to something "creative" will be the Salem (VA) Red Sox and Oklahoma City Dodgers. All the rest (except the FSL teams) are squarely located in the major league team's territory so it helps to have the brand name Red Sox, Cubs, Braves, Cardinals, etc.
- I also predict when the Salem Red Sox change they will become the "Roanoke Something-or-others" because it's the city next door with 4 times as many people.
- Two AAA teams gave up their unique names in the last 5 years and went with the major league affiliate. This makes sense for Syracuse but I'm surprised by the Oklahoma City Dodgers. Guess the "RedHawks" never caught on.
- The Appalachian League never changes, until it goes out of business.

   17. Skloot Insurance Posted: May 22, 2020 at 11:28 AM (#5952903)
I don't buy the travel argument. Increased travel costs when shifting players across levels? Really? How much does a plane ticket from Wichita to Nashville cost (relative to Wilmington to Nashville) and how many times a year does a team have to pay that?


During the 2018 season there were:

-- 14,295 player transfers between minor league affiliates

-- 1,461 optional assignments to the minors

-- 1,328 players recalled from the minors

-- 604 players added to 40-man rosters

Sure, a lot of these maneuvers were paperwork moves, but it gives you an idea of the scope of player movement between minor league affiliates and between the minors and majors.

Take the 14,295 transfers. That works out to an average of 476 per team. Take 200 right off the top -- to estimate for things like offseason reserve rosters and extended spring training -- and that's still 276 annual player transfers per team.

Minor league rosters are highly fluid because of injuries, promotions/demotions, releases and the influx of new faces after the draft and EST.
   18. John Northey Posted: May 22, 2020 at 10:29 PM (#5953054)
The fluidity is probably more between AA/AAA/majors than low-A/A/A+ I suspect. The short season teams tend to be a lot more stable, with guys released, then someone signed to fill in the slot, rather than call-ups as there aren't too many lower levels to call from and demotion from full season to short season seems rare - I could be wrong of course but that is what I've noticed. Thus the location of short season teams should be based more on ability to play a full season than anything else. Full season, especially AA/AAA, should be convenient for the majors imo. As a Jays fan that made Buffalo a perfect AAA affiliate as you can easily drive between Toronto and Buffalo - around a 2 hour drive most of the time - crossing the border outside of COVID is fairly easy too there. Heck, there is a commuter train that goes from Niagara Falls that stops right next to the stadium so a player could just cab/drive there and take the train. Don't get much easier. AA for the Jays is a bit further away, but still not too bad (under a 10 hour drive so a fairly quick flight I'd assume). The ones closer for the Jays are affiliated with teams that are very close to them so I don't see things getting much better than that for them. I'm sure some teams should flip locations though - SF having a AA team in Richmond, VA is silly, but given there are no AA teams west of Texas SF is kinda up the creek.

With the consolidation of the minors it might be a good idea to form a new west coast AA league and shift teams from the east coast out west. Would suck for fans of those teams but might be smart for MLB in the long run. Found info via http://billsportsmaps.com/?p=34955
   19. Walt Davis Posted: May 24, 2020 at 10:05 PM (#5953307)
and that's still 276 annual player transfers per team.

And even at $500 per plane ticket that's $138,000 in total travel costs. Add in another 40-50 recalls and 40-50 demotions and that's another $50,000 or so.

But those aren't the savings by moving teams closer to one another. According to Kayak, I can fly from Wichita to Nashville for $250-400 tomorrow even now ... which I find a bit unlikely ... it appears to be $50 more expensive to fly from Wilmington, NC to Nashville, at least on one-day's notice. I just picked those three out of a hat, no idea who holds thsoe affiliates these days ... does Wichita even still have a team? And oops, just realized those are Aussie $ they're quoting me so you can chop those by at least 1/3. ... so Eugene, OR to Nashville does get you to AU$550.

So we seem to be talking about a savings of, at best, about US$150 per transfer ... maybe $75,000 per year in savings. The time aspect (we can get a player here in time for tomorrow's game) might be more important than that.
   20. DL from MN Posted: May 26, 2020 at 10:28 AM (#5953542)
The key for AAA teams isn't locating them geographically close to the top affiliate but locating them in a city that has regular air service to many locations. MLB teams could be anywhere when they need a call-up and the player will still get to the big leagues by plane. Portland, OR is the busiest airport without a Triple-A team.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_the_busiest_airports_in_the_United_States
   21. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: May 26, 2020 at 11:21 AM (#5953550)
I think there is talk of bringing back the American Association, the AAA midwest league that used to operate up until 1997. I don't think it's great for the Cubs and Royals to have affiliates that have to travel all the way to Fresno and Sacramento, plus the park effects of the league have made it so that no one wants to send their top pitching prospects to the PCL.
   22. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: May 26, 2020 at 11:27 AM (#5953552)
Also just looking at AAA affiliations from a geographic standpoint, the Dodgers need to get back in the West coast (Fresno) the Nats need to get int the IL (Rochester) and you can move the Twins back to the midwest in the AA (Oklahoma City), then have the White Sox (Charlotte) and Marlins (Wichita) switch places, and you'd have pretty good geographical alignments I think.
   23. DL from MN Posted: May 26, 2020 at 11:54 AM (#5953562)
I think having three 10 team AAA leagues would make sense to help reduce travel for AAA teams during the season. I know MLB wants St. Paul to join as a Triple-A team and I think this is part of the reason. Makes sense to have Iowa and Omaha play St. Paul and not Fresno.
   24. DL from MN Posted: May 26, 2020 at 01:19 PM (#5953572)
Looking by region. I think it is important to note markets that would be a good match for AAA in case of expansion (which would bring back 8 minor league team locations). A 10 team IL, 12 team AA and 8 team PCL would make a lot of sense.

Northeast
Syracuse, Rochester, Worcester, Buffalo

Southeast
Charlotte, Durham, Gwinnett, Norfolk, Memphis, Nashville
New Orleans

Central
Columbus, Toledo, Indianapolis, Lehigh Valley, SWB, Louisville
Dayton

Midwest
Omaha, Iowa, Oklahoma City, Wichita, San Antonio, Round Rock
St. Paul

Mountain
Reno, Las Vegas, Albuquerque, Salt Lake, El Paso
Colorado Springs

West Coast
Fresno, Sacramento, Tacoma
Portland, San Jose (AA)
   25. Crispix Attacksel Rios Posted: May 26, 2020 at 03:22 PM (#5953619)
I like all those ideas for new AAA locations. SWB and Lehigh Valley should definitely stay in the same division as the NY State teams and the Pawcester Red Sox, though. Put Memphis in the group with Louisville and Columbus and Indianapolis.

Orlando seems like an AAA location to me. It's a large city, it has an airport, etc. They had an AA team and an FSL team (in Kissimmee) for about 20 years. But its AA team was last in the Southern League in attendance by a lot, and moved to Montgomery. Then they had no minor-league baseball at all for 15 years. Then Kissimmee briefly had an FSL team again, the disastrous Florida Fire Frogs who had terrible attendance even considering the low expectations from their dumb name and lame duck status.

Back when they were in the Southern League, how did the Orlando Rays draw half as many fans as the West Tenn Diamond Jaxx? Is it all the terrible location at the Disney's Wide World of Sports stadium? If they got an AA or AAA team now (maybe the West Tenn Diamond Jaxx, whose attendance seems to have collapsed despite rebranding as the Jackson Generals), would they do a lot worse than the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp?

Is there anywhere to play at all, besides Disney's Wide World of Sports? Looks like the Kissimmee stadium is now owned by Orlando City Soccer Club and being remodeled to be their training ground.
   26. DL from MN Posted: May 26, 2020 at 05:00 PM (#5953653)
SWB and Lehigh Valley should definitely stay in the same division as the NY State teams and the Pawcester Red Sox, though. Put Memphis in the group with Louisville and Columbus and Indianapolis.


Good feedback. I think swapping Memphis and Nashville for Lehigh Valley and SWB would make the most sense.

International League: Syracuse, Rochester, Worcester, Buffalo, Lehigh Valley, SWB, Charlotte, Durham, Gwinnett, Norfolk

American Association East: Columbus, Toledo, Indianapolis, Louisville, Memphis, Nashville
American Association West: Omaha, Iowa, Oklahoma City, Wichita, San Antonio, Round Rock

Pacific Coast League: Reno, Las Vegas, Albuquerque, Salt Lake, El Paso, Fresno, Sacramento, Tacoma

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