Minor League Baseball could contract by as many as 42 teams after the 2020 season, as MLB officials are promoting a radical alteration of the team lineup and potentially an realignment of leagues as well.
Reported this morning by Baseball America, the plan would eliminate most of Rookie and Short Season A ball in the new PBA between MiLB and MLB, which expires in 2020. However, it’s a little more nuanced than saying all the Short Season A and Rookie leagues would go away. The Northwest League would stay but would lose two teams. Two NY-Penn League teams would potentially move to the Double-A Eastern League and replacing existing teams there, while at least one other NY-Penn League team would be shifted up to the Carolina League and replace an existing team there. The Appalachian League would go away except for perhaps Pulaski and Johnson City, moving up to Single-A. Other teams in the Sally, Carolina, Midwest and California leagues would go away as well. In addition, there is talk of adding a third Low-A league in the mid-Atlantic region. And some of these markets could become part of a Dream League, a purely developmental effort co-owned by MLB and MiLB that’s basically a developmental league with undrafted players. (Yes, we know that the Appalachian League is totally owned by MLB teams, which is why a Dream League may not make the most sense.)
The changes are not expected to affect the International League and potentially only one team in the Pacific Coast League, which could be shifted to St. Paul, MN’s CHS Field.
What’s driving these proposed changes? Two big motivators on the MLB side: a) cut down on travel time and b) improve facilities. MLB teams were polled to assess their facilities throughout their systems at the end of the MiLB season, and the lowest-ranging facilities are among those targeted for removal. This proposal came at the beginning of last week, but the prep work has gone on for several weeks; earlier in the summer MiLB teams were warned that work on new facilities and upgrades were to be suspended immediately.
Keep in mind this is the opening salvo of the 2020 PBA negotiations, and plenty of negotiations are in the works. There are ways to address the travel concerns from MLB clubs without dropping 42 teams, such as league realignments, shortening schedules to 130 games and perhaps a flattening at the Single-A level. The MLB proposal also doesn’t address how to address the contraction of teams playing in facilities where debt service is still in play. Minor League Baseball officials have made it their mission to keep teams in a market where there’s still debt on a facility.