Minor-league depth has been one of the Yankees’ biggest strengths over the past several seasons. The organization carried nine teams across seven leagues last year, and houses tons of potential talent in the states and internationally. Change is coming to the system, however, and it begins with a mandate from Major League Baseball.
MLB has selected teams from every organization to be disbanded from the minor league system, a reported list of 42 clubs. The Yankees would lose their Class A short-season team, the Staten Island Yankees, as part of this move.
There has been growing pressure from the player’s union and other sources to improve minor leaguers pay, as MLB doesn’t have to provide them with minimum wage. Many of the rostered players that didn’t receive a large bonus in the draft aren’t making enough to get by. Contracting the amount of teams, in theory, helps clubs provide a higher salary to their players at the obvious cost of other player’s jobs. That tradeoff, which seemingly assumes an unnecessary zero-sum game, is debatable at best and negligent at worst.
The players’ side of the case is a troubling one. Perhaps the athletes still in the system would see a noticeable increase in their pay because of this change, but it was already feasible for clubs, members of an industry with exploding revenues, to increase pay to livable wages and run their full operations as it was. The Blue Jays were one of the trendsetters in this regard, announcing a move to increase minor-league pay in the beginning of the year. The Yankees are certainly among those teams seeing more and more revenue flowing in every year, so forcing a roster cut unilaterally seems like an unwise move for MLB.
As far as the on-field product is concerned, the Yankees would lose a significant stepping stone for their farm system. The Staten Island Yankees are positioned right above the three rookie league teams that the Yankees have on hand, and helps prepare them for the first full-season hurdle to the majors, Single-A. The Staten Island Yankees aren’t a key development club like some of the high-minors teams are, but it serves an important role in facilitating a large influx of prospects.
Losing a club like Staten Island will neither help the Yankees’ farm system development nor improve player’s pay dramatically. The club doesn’t operate for the entire year, running from June until September, and the players and coaches move through the station quickly. It takes next to nothing for the Yankees to keep their Staten Island station up and running, and to provide cheap and accessible baseball to a borough of New York that otherwise doesn’t have easy access to the live sport.
The loss seems wholly redundant when teams could devote more resources and still be fully capable of paying for major-league talent. The new plan would inflict a cost on communities across the country, particularly small ones for whom their minor-league club is their chance to see professional ball players clash. For the Yankees, it would chip away at their top-end development system, costing them depth for no discernible gain. From an outside perspective, MLB’s plan appears to serve no master but the owners’ pockets, while penalizing organizations that run deep in the minors, as well as the fans that support the minor leagues.