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Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Why MLB Declared War On The Minor Leagues

Give or take some changes in nomenclature—what had been Double-A leagues got an extra A in 1946; designations B and beyond were deprecated after 1963— that’s more or less where things still stood last fall, when the first rumblings of disruption emerged from the Houston Astros’ front office, the seedbed of all things designed to gain a competitive leg up even if it means breaking the rules. Astros then-GM Jeff Luhnow’s brainstorm: What if all 30 major-league teams agreed to pare down their five or six farm teams to a nimble four apiece, no exceptions? After selling the idea to his former acolytes running the show in Milwaukee and Baltimore, Luhnow eventually convinced the whole league to vote unanimously to approve the plan.

It’s easy to envision Luhnow’s pitch to his fellow execs:

Look, guys. We’re paying salaries to more than 7,000 minor leaguers to, in effect, engage in tryouts for our big-league teams. We could save a bundle if we just paid the few players who are legit prospects—the kind who throw no-hitters in college or show quick swings as determined by sensors placed on their bats—and made everyone else fight to even get in the door. Why, we could save—Rob, you have a calculator?—let’s see, 1,200 players at about $7,500 a year, that’s $9 million! We could all chip in and buy a used yacht!

The Astros had already trimmed their own minor-league system, but doing so league-wide would reduce the risk that, say, Hal Steinbrenner would decide to undermine the whole enterprise by going full Rickey and hoarding prospects in hopes of finding players that others had missed. Plus, it was a perfect time for Luhnow to float his downsizing plan, as MLB was about to renew its Professional Baseball Agreement with the minors for the first time in a decade.

RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: December 22, 2020 at 12:17 PM | 33 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: minor leagues

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   1. bfan Posted: December 22, 2020 at 01:49 PM (#5995537)
We could all chip in and buy a used yacht!


This line alone shows the bias of the author and taints the article.
   2. puck Posted: December 22, 2020 at 02:20 PM (#5995541)
Neil Demause. He is biased for sure, though not without reason.

His second point here hits at his area of focus:

But read even slightly between the lines, and two much more lucrative motivations become clear: Eliminating dozens of teams allows baseball’s barons to extinguish more than a thousand paid ballplayer jobs and convert them into, in effect, unpaid internships. And at the same time, MLB gains fresh leverage to pressure minor-league cities for new or upgraded stadiums, under threat of otherwise ending up without a chair when the music stops.
   3. John Northey Posted: December 22, 2020 at 02:56 PM (#5995550)
Well, is there any question this is 100% about money - even if it is pennies vs what they spend in the majors? I suspect it is a step towards the NFL/NBA style where you make colleges be the bulk of the minors with the current system shrinking further to 3 teams per club or even 2. Really, does it make much difference if everyone does the same thing? Real prospects get up faster (post-college) and non-prospects go to indy leagues to try to prove themselves. As a person who loves numbers I loved having 8 minor league teams per ML team, but if I ran MLB I'd shrink it as far as possible - really you just need a feeder team (AAA) for injury situations and maybe another one for prospects to develop at (AA). A+ and lower are mostly to do what colleges already do. Indy leagues can cover the rest (surprising players who develop late, emergency injury fills when a team has one of those years where 10+ guys go down). International free agents could be loaned to Indy teams for a year or two if needed, others would play in local leagues in their own countries then get signed at 18+ instead.
   4. sanny manguillen Posted: December 22, 2020 at 03:10 PM (#5995553)
For the better part of a century, baseball training was attrition. Sign five third basemen, scatter them around the country, whoever hits moves up, eventually one pops out the top to the majors. Data was measured in average, RBIs, strikeouts.

Completely different world now. They want to get video of these guys, with analysis. They want to show them: this spin is what gave you that break, and this is where your hand was when you released it; try to do that again tomorrow. It's a sad thing, but 80 games and a bunch of bus rides is in the way of that sort of instruction.

   5. Mayor Blomberg Posted: December 22, 2020 at 03:25 PM (#5995555)
I suspect it is a step towards the NFL/NBA style where you make colleges


"But how will we pay for that?"
"How else? We'll fire a few English teachers."
   6. we all water; we all 57i66135 Posted: December 22, 2020 at 03:45 PM (#5995563)
This line alone shows the bias of the author and taints the article.
the latter does not follow the former.
80 games and a bunch of bus rides is in the way of that sort of instruction.
the dirty little secret is that it always did.
   7. winnipegwhip Posted: December 22, 2020 at 04:51 PM (#5995583)
Granted early into the reading I thought I was reading the text to a Ken Burns film without the daguerreotypes. But even though his agenda is obvious his facts are fairly accurate. It is his interpretation of those facts and the added labels to individuals that do his article harm.

By no means does this mean I am defending the owners on this as I have been upset over these developments for over a year. I looked to read this article with interest as I have tried to read all the events of this nefarious endeavour of MLB. But the delivery of the story turned me off.
   8. winnipegwhip Posted: December 22, 2020 at 04:54 PM (#5995584)
The fact that there was minimal movement of affiliations after the announcement of teams showed that MLBs declaration of travel concerns was "a fart in the wind" and confirms what Northey says in #3.
   9. Walt Davis Posted: December 22, 2020 at 06:21 PM (#5995591)
It will be interesting to see how well this works in terms of development. To this point, an 18-year-old genuine prospect would start out at rookie/A- playing against guys about the same age but mostly less talented. This gave him a chance to excel which maybe was useful to his development (and maybe not or even slowed his development). Now he'll be in a league with a somewhat higher level of talent and somewhat older.

A+ and lower are mostly to do what colleges already do.

I agree MLB would love it if colleges stepped in and filled the void. But I'm not sure how that happens given college baseball doesn't make money. Unless there's been a change to Title IX I don't know about (could be, not like I care about it in Oz), they won't have any capacity to expand baseball scholarships.

Also ... others here would know much better than I, but my poking around in various players' minor-league history suggests to me that college draftees still usually start at A or A+. I'd say it's fair to say that college ball can replace rookie/low A.

And if they really do believe they can train better through video, etc. and that game play is less important than previously thought, wouldn't it be better for MLB teams to take the kid from high school and train him themselves rather than him going off to college for 2-4 years of inferior training and time wasted on the field? Will we see a shift back towards HS draftees, at least in the first few rounds? (Not immediately because still some top players in college.) In terms of development at the ML level, it seems game experience is more important for pitchers than hitters so we might see that sort of shift as well -- pitching prospects go to college, position ones go to the minors (I suspect this is partly true already).
   10. Zach Posted: December 22, 2020 at 06:38 PM (#5995592)
Granted early into the reading I thought I was reading the text to a Ken Burns film without the daguerreotypes

A Ken Burns film with Tourette's, where the narrator just randomly insults people every few seconds.
   11. . . . . . . Posted: December 22, 2020 at 06:39 PM (#5995593)
I mean, the minors were way too big as it was. Plenty of low A teams - maybe even a majority? - would have no future major leaguers on them, other than perhaps 1 or 2 AAA shuttle relievers who would pitch less than 100IP in the show. There is no way that running out whole teams of no-hopers is an efficient way to develop talent, and unless those teams had an extraordinary effect on building future fans (which I'm skeptical of), the $$$ just didn't make sense.

I think working to preserve live baseball in many of these towns, but under different constructs (with draft leagues, wood bat leagues, etc) is a smart move and probably replaces much of what the low minors did in introducing fans to the live game experience. My wife's hometown has a shitty wood bat summer league team, and it's close enough to low minors ball to scratch the itch, even if the curveballs don't curve as much.
   12. Zach Posted: December 22, 2020 at 06:49 PM (#5995595)
The obvious explanation is that teams weren't seeing much developmental advantage from the lowest levels of the minors. A money grab doesn't make much sense -- $9 million a year isn't that much compared to the MLB average salary. You don't have to hit on players very often to make that pay off.
   13. BDC Posted: December 22, 2020 at 08:32 PM (#5995609)
the $$$ just didn't make sense


Yes, I think that's the thing. Most minor-league clubs need subsidies, and expecting the major leagues to subsidize money-losers forever just because they've done it for a long time is not reasonable.

We are losing our independent-league team in DFW (the AirHogs) and I am sorry to see them go – but realistically, nobody came out to see them. Without a sponsor (for the last couple of years, they were being funded by the Chinese national team), they can't just provide entertainment for the occasional crank like me at a loss.
   14. Walt Davis Posted: December 22, 2020 at 08:57 PM (#5995616)
Yeah, I don't know how the AusBL stays afloat. Last I looked, at least one of the teams were funded and stocked by Korean teams as a form of winter ball. Somewhat surprised that MLB hasn't used ABL a bit more like that as well -- for the US/Canada players, likely an easier adaptation than DR winter leagues.
   15. DL from MN Posted: December 22, 2020 at 10:38 PM (#5995632)
wouldn't it be better for MLB teams to take the kid from high school and train him themselves rather than him going off to college for 2-4 years of inferior training and time wasted on the field?


That assumes the colleges aren't training through video. It also lets the colleges take a whole lot of risk out of the process. Pitchers who can't throw 90 without ruining their arm are weeded out. Likewise batters who can't hit a slider are exposed.

The complex teams are going to be playing games, just mostly against other complex teams.
   16. Walt Davis Posted: December 23, 2020 at 04:03 AM (#5995645)
No the assumption is that the college coaches aren't as good as the MLB-hired minor-league ones, that they aren't necessarily as up to speed on the latest data and techniques, that they are interested in preserving their own jobs by producing college wins rather than producing MLB talent.

The dilemma I was proposing was whether the break-even point of "let the colleges take the risk" vs. "don't let elite talent waste time in college" has shifted. MLB basically just decided "it's not worth $9 M for our guys to spend time getting acclimated against inferior talent." If they don't want a player spending time in Asheville playing for the Tourists, why would they want them at Baton Rouge playing for LSU much less Western Carolina playing for the Catamounts (Greg Holland the most successful)?

There are other possibilities of course. Maybe nearly all the HS prospects they really care about outside the first 2-3 rounds go to college anyway so the whole bottom 2 levels were just about training those 1-2 HS guys they picked in the first 3 rounds every year. But really that's just saying it's about saving $9 M.
   17. Starring Bradley Scotchman as RMc Posted: December 23, 2020 at 08:07 AM (#5995646)
We could all chip in and buy a used yacht!

This line alone shows the bias of the author and taints the article.


He's not wrong, though.
   18. Slivers of Maranville descends into chaos (SdeB) Posted: December 23, 2020 at 08:42 AM (#5995649)
Indy leagues can cover the rest (surprising players who develop late, emergency injury fills when a team has one of those years where 10+ guys go down).


There is a weird groundhog day feel to all of this. The minor leagues used to be independent, until MLB took them over. Now, having sucked them dry, they are like "oh, go ahead, be independent again." Thanks, MLB!
   19. Slivers of Maranville descends into chaos (SdeB) Posted: December 23, 2020 at 08:46 AM (#5995650)

The obvious explanation is that teams weren't seeing much developmental advantage from the lowest levels of the minors. A money grab doesn't make much sense -- $9 million a year isn't that much compared to the MLB average salary. You don't have to hit on players very often to make that pay off.


So I picked a low A ball team at random -- the Delmarva Shorebirds. They produced Michael Barrett, Eric Bedard, Delino DeShields, Zach Britton, Mike Bordick, Endy Chavez, Pat Hentgen, Nick Markakis, Scott Williamson .... that seems like a decent crop of players.
   20. Zonk demands an audit of your post Posted: December 23, 2020 at 09:03 AM (#5995651)
There is a weird groundhog day feel to all of this. The minor leagues used to be independent, until MLB took them over. Now, having sucked them dry, they are like "oh, go ahead, be independent again." Thanks, MLB!


That's unfair - MLB also shared its Buy Me a Stadium! Shakedown model with smaller markets, thus bringing a broader, egalitarian understanding of cost overruns, overly rosy revenue/jobs projections, and the like.

Anyway - warning, more hands than can othered! --

On one hand, I suppose it does make fiscal sense for MLB... Long-time lover and follower of minor league baseball, but sure - on any given roster? You're going to see a handful of guys, at most, providing some modicum of value playing for or as trade chits for the big club.

On the other hand, and I suppose I should R(on of)TFA to find out - will MLB be enforcing limits on clubs? If I'm a bazillionaire owner looking for every advantage... well... if I spend an extra 9m on an expanded farm system.... does sheer volume mean that perhaps I no longer have to bother giving Aaron Miles 5m to be my utility IF because I'm able to just organically grow my own? Can I count on just padding the back of my bullpen with homegrown arms rather than giving nondescript reliever X 3m? IDK...

On yet another hand - sure, perhaps this means more HS players take their skills towards getting a college degree, putting them in a better place post-college if big league dreams pan out...

But on yet another hand... even at ripoff bonus prices and with all the international skullduggery, not sure the lack of even low-level pro baseball jobs helps lots of poor Dominicans...

But wait - there's one more hand!... Rather than viewing minor league baseball as a bloated sunk cost, it would be swell if MLB saw the minor leagues more as a way to spread the gospel of baseball. I've always hated the musical chairs of affiliations - were I a gozillionaire, I'd rather create lasting, longterm arrangements with my affiliates. I'd help build excitement not just to see the "Cubs of the future" - but have fun with minor league pennant races and the like. Is 9m too pricey for more and broader goodwill? Seems short-sighted.

...and now I think I'm out of hands....
   21. DL from MN Posted: December 23, 2020 at 09:22 AM (#5995654)
the whole bottom 2 levels were just about training those 1-2 HS guys they picked in the first 3 rounds


Don't forget the international signings of 16 year olds. They need to play somewhere.

more HS players take their skills towards getting a college degree


Most players are drafted after Junior year or 2 years at a CC. Not sure how many ever complete the degree, probably the players who don't have professional baseball aptitude.

One thing I have noticed with the rearranging of the minor leagues is how much more sane it is regionally. The Twins can now have a front office guy scout their AAA, AA and A+ teams in a 13 hour round trip without getting on an airplane. My guess is the area scout budgets can be used more efficiently now.

   22. winnipegwhip Posted: December 23, 2020 at 09:37 AM (#5995659)

On the other hand, and I suppose I should R(on of)TFA to find out - will MLB be enforcing limits on clubs? If I'm a bazillionaire owner looking for every advantage... well... if I spend an extra 9m on an expanded farm system.... does sheer volume mean that perhaps I no longer have to bother giving Aaron Miles 5m to be my utility IF because I'm able to just organically grow my own? Can I count on just padding the back of my bullpen with homegrown arms rather than giving nondescript reliever X 3m? IDK...


And to me this is the problem with baseball ownership....they are all a bunch of whiners when it comes to competitive advantage. If another team has a better model it procuring major league talent the idea is to reign them in with restrictions. The Yankees and Braves have usually fielded more minor league teams than other franchises over the last few decades..there may be a partial correlation between this fact and success. Throughout baseball's history there is usually a strong relationship with player development and MLB success. This is very true in the expansion era. Look at the stronger franchises the early Royals, the Blue Jays, Tampa Bay once they pivoted from their early plan all have had extended spells of competitiveness and their talent was homegrown. I haven't even mentioned the Dodgers long term success in a competitive National League in the 50's 60's and 70's.

Is there anything stopping a team from starting there own 4 - 6 team league at the Rookie - Class A level (independent of course) and signing 150 players to monthly contracts and finding prospects out of that league to sell to their organization? Except other teams complaining to Manfred that team is not playing down to other teams commitments and therefore has a competitive advantage.
   23. greenback used to say live and let live Posted: December 23, 2020 at 09:56 AM (#5995664)
Don't forget the international signings of 16 year olds. They need to play somewhere.

Yeah, but for a number of reasons Walla Walla, WA, or Pulaski, VA (I think), is really not the best destination for a 19-yo kid from the Dominican.

Aaron Miles

Miles was the first guy I thought of when this news came out for rather different reasons. Scrappy Doo spent six seasons at A+ or lower. He spent three years in the Midwest League alone. If you watched him, then you know why -- the man had the minimal physical talent to play professional baseball. It's a lot, lot harder for somebody like this to take up a lower level roster spot now. I doubt anyone will notice when his likes disappear.

***

Somewhat related to the disappearance of Aaron Miles, the contraction of the minors suggests to me that majors won't be expanding any time soon, as the talent pool under professional contract is about to get thinner. Or alternatively stated, it seems to me the time to do this was at an expansion at the major league level.
   24. Mellow Mouse, Benevolent Space Tyrant Posted: December 23, 2020 at 10:51 AM (#5995673)
Baseball ownership remains terrible. However, I don't have the crush on the minor leagues that many seem to have.
   25. The Duke Posted: December 23, 2020 at 04:07 PM (#5995738)
All of this makes tremendous sense. I’m sure the savings are far more than $9 million. Everyone hates change. It’s natural
   26. The Honorable Ardo Posted: December 23, 2020 at 06:39 PM (#5995756)
Miles may well be the last of his kind. He had 3,064 MLB PA and (eyeballing it) slightly over 4,000 minor league PA. That used to be common in baseball history; now it's effectively extinct.
   27. Howie Menckel Posted: December 23, 2020 at 08:23 PM (#5995766)
didn't Aaron Miles, in retrospect, get way more MLB time than he deserved?

I suspect he'll get a sweet lifetime pension and benefits while similarly-skilled players of the time fared a lot worse.
   28. Barry`s_Lazy_Boy Posted: December 23, 2020 at 09:47 PM (#5995773)
Miles was given 3000 PA to compile 1 WAR, so it does seem like he got a lot of opportunities most guys of his skill level did not.

And he made nearly $9M.
   29. bookbook Posted: December 24, 2020 at 09:11 AM (#5995812)
But colleges don’t give baseball scholarships. This is going to accelerate the already existing trend of the best American talent going to other sports besides baseball. Clearly, that doesn’t matter to ownership.

It might affect fan interest longer term, however,
   30. winnipegwhip Posted: December 24, 2020 at 09:30 AM (#5995815)
30 years ago Winnipeg was trying very hard to get into AAA baseball. At the time the PCL had three Canadian teams and on three occasions the city hosted PCL games...Portland (Twins affiliate at that time) played some games here.

The fellow who wanted to bring ball here jumped into the Northern League (now the American Association) for a fraction of the price. The community built a state of the art ball park 5 years later and in retrospect not getting into affiliated baseball has been the best thing for me as a baseball fan. We have players who come back year after year, we get some home grown talent playing on a rare occasion and the goal every year is to field a winning team.

   31. Starring Bradley Scotchman as RMc Posted: December 24, 2020 at 09:47 AM (#5995819)
Miles (...) made nearly $9M.

So that's where that money went...!
   32. Dr. Chaleeko Posted: December 24, 2020 at 10:03 AM (#5995823)
Re Walt’s first paragraph in number 9

Something I’ve noticed working with Negro Leagues and NPB stats: Players appear to peak a little earlier in those leagues. I think this is because neither had strong player development systems, and instead just played the kids. 18 and 19 year olds get a lot more top-level playing time, stink for a couple years, then quickly become productive players. MLB is, smartly, not doing that, but with fewer MiL teams and levels, perhaps some players will get more challenging assignments as very young players and develop more quickly?
   33. Steve Balboni's Personal Trainer Posted: December 24, 2020 at 01:47 PM (#5995855)
Also, MLB is following the trend that the NBA and NFL did with reducing the number of rounds of the draft. (NFL went down from 12 to 7 - at one point, it was up to 30 rounds!) and the NBA is down to two rounds (in 1984, in contrast the NBA draft lasted 228 players!). MLB will likely be 20 rounds next draft, which is fine by me. If you look at the draft now, the overwhelming percentage of players from the draft who end up contributing in the majors were drafted in the first 10-15 rounds, and the lower rounds are often used to take a shot at a high school hotshot who they hope they can go above slot to get to skip college. If the draft was shorter, that sort of thing would happen less, or would at least happen in the 15th round, instead of the 25th round - whatever.

It strikes me that if the number of affiliated MiLB teams contracts, so will the length of the draft.

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