MLB wants to slash the number of minor league teams by 25 percent

Craig Calcaterra

Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball operate via a general agreement called The Professional Baseball Agreement (“PBA”). The PBA is what establishes affiliations, leagues, teams, and establishes the framework by which Major League Baseball supplies minor league teams with players and coaches while minor league teams run the business and logistics side of things.

The PBA is renegotiated every few years and rarely is it controversial or contentious. For the past 30 years or so, in fact, it’s basically been a rubber stamp situation with the status quo carrying forward. Here are the leagues, here are the affiliates, here are the rules, here is the financial arrangement, etc.

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J.J. Cooper of Baseball America Reports today, however, that Major League Baseball has thrown a live hand grenade into the negotiations for the next PBA, proposing a radical reorganization of Minor League Baseball. The most radical part: the elimination of a full one-quarter of minor league teams, including all short season and rookie-league ball. Major League Baseball would also demand that various minor leagues restructure, with some teams moving from Triple-A to Single-A and some Single-A teams moving to Triple-A. It also wants some leagues to add teams and other leagues to subtract teams, all with the aim of aligning leagues and affiliates, geographically, in a manner which suits Major League Baseball’s developmental needs better.

But that should be read as “in a manner in which saves MLB owners money and makes minor league teams subsidize their overhead.” Because the aim here seems fairly clear: MLB wants to reduce its financial outlay in the minor leagues.

It’ll likely do so while raising minor league salaries, which is something that has been long-sought by, well, everyone but Major League Baseball, which has fought lawsuits seeking higher minor league pay with gusto and, in one famous case, Congressional intervention. It’s worth asking how a massive nominal raise in minor league pay — coming at the expense of a quarter of the jobs of minor leaguers and, per Cooper’s Report, minor league teams kicking in more money than they do now to pay them — would cut, P.R. wise. I presume MLB would be really loud about the “we raised minor league salaries” part and not so loud about the “25% of all minor league teams are gone now” part.

There’s a LOT more detail in Cooper’s article, and I highly recommend you read it all in order to fully understand the dynamics at play here, as a bloggy summary like this doesn’t do a very complex matter good justice.

That said: it’s hard not to conclude that the upshot here is that Major League Baseball wants to reduce the number of minor league teams and minor league players. Given that, unlike Major League Baseball, minor league baseball continues to set attendance records and continues to serve as a good, affordable, family entertainment option, that seems somewhat . . . hostile to fans.

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