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Contraction Talks Continue Between MLB, MiLB–and Bernie Sanders

Two meetings and a lobbying effort worth noting today, as talks between Major League Baseball (MLB) and Minor League Baseball (MiLB) continue, with a star cameo from contraction critic and presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).

The meeting between MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred and Sanders comes on the heels of heavy criticism from Sanders regarding a proposal to contract 42 MiLB teams for the 2021 season while overhauling the player draft and first-season development. (In our coverage, we’ve outlined the proposals as well as the teams targeted for contraction, documented early political opposition to the proposal, and outlined what Minor League Baseball can do to address MLB concerns.) Sanders took to Twitter last week to oppose the proposal, saying the move would “destroy thousands of jobs and devastate local economies.”

After a Monday meeting between Manfred and Sanders in New York City, MLB issued the following statement:

“MLB fully recognizes the importance of professional baseball to communities throughout the United States without a Major League team and, as our national pastime, appreciates the support of the tens of millions of fans in our country. MLB also understands that we have an obligation to local communities to ensure that public money spent on Minor League stadiums is done so prudently and for the benefit of all citizens.

“MLB also must ensure that Minor League players have safe playing facilities suitable for the development of professional baseball players, are not subjected to unreasonable travel demands, are provided with compensation and working conditions appropriate for elite athletes, and have a realistic opportunity of making it to the Major Leagues.

“MLB is committed to negotiating with Minor League Baseball to find solutions that balance the competing interests of local communities, MLB Clubs, Minor League owners, and the young players who pursue their dream of becoming professional baseball players. We repeatedly have stated both publicly and privately to the Minor Leagues that whatever the outcome of the negotiations, MLB will offer every community that currently hosts professional baseball options to preserve baseball in a viable, fan-friendly, compelling format with the full support of MLB. We remain confident that solutions can be reached that satisfy the interests of all stakeholders.”

Sanders, for his part, issued his own statement:

“Commissioner Manfred said that he is committed to a good faith negotiation with Minor League Baseball and is open to solutions that would maintain professional baseball in the 42 communities while addressing concerns about facilities, working conditions and wages for minor league players,” read Sanders’ statement in part. “While these issues must be addressed through negotiations between Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball, I and other members of Congress will be carefully monitoring the progress of negotiations on behalf of fans.”

In a far-less publicized meeting last week, MLB negotiators reportedly asked MiLB negotiators to prepare their own proposal for addressing MLB’s concerns about travel, development and facilities, according to several MiLB owners. There has been plenty of chatter in MiLB circles about how the sport can adapt — we summed up many of them here — and we would expect some of these proposals to be presented as an alternative to MLB officials. Talks are slated to resume at the end of the week, at the eve of the Winter Meetings in San Diego.

Meanwhile, the politicking moves forward today, with several MiLB owners and officials converging on Washington, D.C. to formally launch a “Save Minor League Baseball Task Force” headed by U.S. Rep. Lori Trahan (D-MA), along with David McKinley (R-West Virginia), who called for MLB to reconsider the contraction plan in a statement signed by 106 U.S. Representatives across the nation, encompassing the political spectrum. Several proposals are floating around as to how Congress can address the issue: while repealing the sport’s anti-trust exemption is seen as the nuclear option by many both in MLB and MiLB, there are other more subtle measures, such as removing MLB’s minimum-wage overtime exemption and limiting the number of visas issued to the sport, under debate.

Photo of Dehler Park, home of the Pioneer League’s Billings Mustangs, one of the teams proposed for contraction by MLB negotiators.

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