Sports journalist Zach Short reports on the upcoming tentative changes to the relationship between the major and minor baseball leagues.
The winds of change are blowing for baseball in America. A new deal between the MLB and the MiLB is due by the end of the 2020 season, and the changes proposed thus far would drastically alter how the minor league system works. The problems being addressed are that many minor league affiliates use embarrassingly bad facilities, and that bigger major league clubs can afford to control a plethora of minor league affiliates to keep tabs on a whole slew of young prospects, whereas smaller teams don’t get as many affiliates nor do they own as many. For example, the Yankees have nine minor league affiliates, six of which are owned directly by the Yankees and three that are independently owned. Alternatively, the White Sox have seven minor league affiliates, two that are owned by the major league club and five that are independently managed. With two more teams, and 35 players on each minor league roster, the Yankees could manage an extra 70 players.
The new plan intends to address these problems directly, albeit with some radical changes. The main change would be to outright eliminate the presence of roughly a quarter of the minor league teams.
These teams could, if they so desired, create independent leagues and continue playing in their own right, but would no longer be directly affiliated with the major league system. They would select the teams with the best facilities to remain as part of the deal, somewhat raising the overall level of quality without doing much renovation, if any renovation at all. While the plan seems rather harsh, it may actually be a necessary task to undertake. At present, there are MiLB owners who are unhappy with their facilities and MLB partners who are unhappy to be associated with such, hence the Yankees’ direct acquisitions of most of their affiliates.
The other change would be the reorganization of the placement of the remaining teams. There would be a set amount of minor league teams allowed for any major league club and all leagues would be drastically reorganized to make the competing teams closer geographically. With every team being forced to the same number of minor league affiliates, the disparity between organizations like the Yankees and the White Sox would shrink, with the Yankees having to cut down greatly on how many players they actually have recruited at the minor league level. This restructuring would keep the different levels mostly intact, and there would be no new graduate level “super” league, but some teams would be moved from one level to another, with some teams moving from High-A baseball to Triple-A and vice-versa. The only leagues who might change so much as to be perhaps unrecognizable would be the leagues below High-A who function very differently than the upper levels already.
While the changes may seem to be extremely drastic, the change could potentially go unnoticed. A big concern for TU students might be how Double-A affiliates would be affected. There is, of course, the Texas league in Double-A that houses teams from many of the places university students come from, with four teams from Texas, two from Arkansas, one from southwest Missouri, and one from Tulsa itself, the Drillers. Fortunately, this league stands a chance of being almost entirely untouched. The Texas league is already located in a relatively compact area, has reasonable facilities, and is Double-A. The proposed changes seem aimed mostly at defining the lower level teams, so the Texas league, which actually functions pretty smoothly, is likely the least of the MLB and MiLB’s concerns. Tulsa fans, your Drillers should be okay.