SAN ANTONIO (Texas News Radio) — Major League Baseball may be looking to do a major overhaul of its relationship with Minor League Baseball that could lead to dozens of minor league teams being eliminated and a greater involvement of independent and amateur leagues.
Baseball America reported Friday the two organizations are beginning to negotiate the Professional Baseball Agreement that expires at the end of 2020 season.
That agreement mandates how Major League Baseball teams operate with minor leagues and Minor League Baseball teams.
Currently, Major League Baseball teams pay the salaries of all of the players in their minor league system while the teams handle the day-to-day operational costs of running a franchise. That contrasts with independent leagues like the Sugar Land Skeeters of the Atlantic League and the Texas AirHogs of the American Association, where the teams are paying for the entire operation.
Teams also negotiate their Player Development Contracts with minor league teams every two years. These are the affiliation agreements.
There are many issues Major League Baseball want to address.
One is the quality of minor league facilities. Major League Baseball views that roughly a quarter of current Minor League Baseball stadiums are below the standards they need to meet for minor league players. San Antonio’s Nelson Wolff Stadium — home of the San Antonio Missions, who finished their first year in AAA — is among them.
The poor facilities, tied with the fact teams and swap affiliates every two years, have had Major League Baseball teams work to avoid ending up with a minor league team that either had poor facilities or were in a poor location, logistically speaking. San Antonio experienced this when the Texas Rangers went with the Nashville Sounds instead of the Missions because of facilities when San Antonio would have otherwise been a more logical fit.
This has led to major league teams buying minor league teams to ensure and assert more control over the facilities of their farm system.
Minor league players have been seeking better pay and Major League Baseball agrees.
How does Major League Baseball plan to correct these issues?
In a proposal that would be the biggest overhauling of the baseball farm system since the 1960s.
The proposal would cut the number of Minor League Baseball teams from 160 down to 120. That would reduce the number of players Major League Baseball teams are paying, allowing them to pay the remaining players more.
The MLB also wants to restructure the leagues to have their teams closer to each other to cut down on travel costs. This is an issue also seen in independent leagues, which has usually led to the failures of those teams. This restructuring would have some minor league teams seeing significant reclassification — some teams would swap between AAA and high A.
They would compensate for the change in levels, the affected teams would have to either pay or be paid depending on which direction they are being ordered to go.
The minor leagues themselves will be reworked to be more regionally compact.
On the AAA level, the Pacific Coast League — where the San Antonio Missions, Round Rock Express and El Paso Chihuahuas play — will go from 16 teams to 10 teams. The International League would have 20 teams. Current International League teams are along the East Coast and in the Midwest. It is assumed PCL teams like the Nashville Sounds, Memphis Redbirds, Iowa Cubs, Omaha Storm Chasers and the new Wichita team (formerly the New Orleans Baby Cakes) would be favorites to move to the other league.
That’s assuming all of the AAA teams stay as AAA teams, which the MLB proposal does not guarantee.
The 40 or so teams axed from the Minor League Baseball system could go into what MLB proposes would be “Dream Leagues” — an independent-style league operated like the Atlantic League and American Association, but would operate as a joint venture between the MLB and MiLB. These leagues are intended for undrafted players to showcase their talent and be picked up by affiliated teams — again, much like the existing independent leagues.
Canned teams could also end up in existing independent leagues.
It’s not immediately clear what this plan means for the Texas teams, including its independent league teams.
There are a total of eight or nine teams that would be affected by the Major League Baseball proposal: San Antonio Missions, Round Rock Express, El Paso Chihuahuas, Amarillo Sod Poodles, Corpus Christi Hooks, Midland RockHounds, Frisco RoughRiders and the independent Sugar Land Skeeters. The Texas AirHogs and Cleburne Railroaders did not appear to be considered in MLB’s plans, especially since Major League Baseball already has spent the past year working with Sugar Land’s Atlantic League on a variety of experiments like robotic umpiring.
The proposal suggested that a pair of independent teams, one being the Sugar Land Skeeters, be brought in to affiliated baseball.
From an Atlantic League perspective, such a move would make sense. The closest team Sugar Land plays is in High Point, NC. As a market, it would compare favorably with Frisco, which leads AA baseball in attendance.
It is not clear if Major League Baseball would propose maintaining Texas’ big city minor league teams — San Antonio and Round Rock — stay in the Pacific Coast League, or would prefer to put all of the Texas teams in the same league, creating a Texas League 2.0. The Texas League is currently AA play and has four of its eight teams in Texas — Amarillo, Corpus Christi, Frisco, Midland. San Antonio was in the Texas League before getting bumped up to the Pacific Coast League. That would be a league of eight teams, the same as the Texas League has now.
It is also not clear what factors the baseball overlords will use to decide how it reshuffles its teams.
Will it be based primarily on geography? That would make a single Texas League of Texas teams more likely.
Would it be based on facilities? San Antonio would certainly be hurt in that metric and noted weak operational capabilities at the Wolff. Even recent upgrades made to accommodate the AAA level players are not sufficient for that level of play.
The Atlantic League facilities what is currently found at the Wolff, which may be part of the reason Major League Baseball is pushing for these changes. The Atlantic League mandates its stadiums must exceed AAA baseball standards.
Whether any of these proposals come to fruition is not clear and the whole slate of ideas will be largely refuted by minor league teams.
Both sides will need to have a new agreement in place before the 2021 baseball season.