A few months ago, a bombshell report came out indicating that Major League Baseball was attempting to exert more control over Minor League Baseball, including the possible cutting of more than 40 minor league teams. This went on without any more major news for a while, but a new report is indicating that MiLB is becoming more accepting of the proposal. Exacerbated by the complete lack of revenue as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, doomsday could be coming soon for more than 40 low-level minor league baseball teams.
But why, in a world where baseball is trying to reach as many fans as possible, would eliminating 40 teams (not to mention all the people whose jobs would be lost) be a good idea? This all started, naturally, with contract negotiations. The current Professional Baseball Agreement (PBA) is set to expire, and MLB smelled the opportunity to take more control in the next round of negotiations. While cutting 40 teams seems like a ruthless cost-cutting move, there actually may be some good to come out of this if MLB follows through with its vision.
MLB argues that by cutting out some of the less-profitable teams at the lower levels, there’d be more money to focus on improving quality of life for minor leaguers. MLB has already pledged to raise the pay of minor leaguers in the 2021 season, and is still paying them in the present day during the COVID-19 outbreak. With more funds available and less clubs to focus on, it stands to reason that the remaining minor league facilities could be improved. Additionally, by eliminating some teams and relocating others, this could potentially ease travel for minor leaguers, who currently endure brutal trips on the bus to get from series to series.
So, it’s not all about saving money — the players left would stand to benefit from this plan. It’s essentially predicated on the notion that minor league baseball has spread itself too thin. By cutting back, those who remain might receive a better experience. Of course, there’s a problem with this, involving the lost jobs of thousands of players and team employees, including coaches, front office workers, salespeople, concessions workers, media and so many more. This would also involve removing baseball from some cities where it may never come back.
We could go on for days about the pros and cons of the plan, but let’s dive into it from a Yankees perspective if it was to pass. Teams would each be able to have four minor league affiliates, at Triple-A, Double-A, High Single-A and Low Single-A. They’d also be able to assemble a rookie league team at their spring training complex, and some international summer league teams. The Yankees currently have nine minor league teams, so they’d have to cut three of them. The likely candidates are the Staten Island Yankees, along with both Gulf Coast League teams.
The rest of the team’s minor league pecking order would be re-stacked — Tampa would go from High-A to the rookie level, as teams who use MLB facilities (like the Tampa Tarpons) would be forced to be the rookie team. In their place at the Single-A level, the Pulaski Yankees would move from rookie level to A-ball. The Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Railriders (Triple-A), Trenton Thunder (Double-A) and Charleston Riverdogs (Low-A) would remain in their current locations and levels, while Pulaski and Tampa would essentially flip-flop their levels.
Of course, the biggest impact would be the loss of the Staten Island Yankees, a team founded in 1999 with a nice stadium and a rich history of alumni (Dellin Betances, Chien-Ming Wang, Robinson Cano and Brett Gardner all played there). But, the Pulaski Yankees, born recently in 2015 and quite successful since then, have been more profitable than Staten Island, and seem more likely to be kept. Of course, we’re debating a sore subject. Either way, hundreds of people will lose their jobs.
The Yankees might also lose a bit of a competitive edge as a result of this. The Yankees have more minor league players in their system than any other team, thanks in part to their other-worldly budget. More players requires more teams to ensure they all get to play. The Yankees were more likely to find a diamond in the rough with nine minor league rosters than a team who only has five. Although this new measure might level the playing field a bit, it also lets the Yankees flex their financial muscles a little less when it comes to the raw stockpiling of minor league talent, something that the team excelled at in the last decade.
If this measure was to go through, the Yankees would be among the teams most affected. They’d lose a few minor league teams and relocate a few more, but the biggest effect would be on the evening of roster sizes. No longer could the team employ a hundred more minor leaguers to take a chance on, stashed in the lower levels for growth and development. Although the positives of the plan — including improving quality of life for minor leaguers — could eventually take away some of the sting of the cuts, the fact remains that at the start, the Yankees would be hit hard by its implementation.