Major League Baseball is moving closer to a new agreement with Minor League Baseball that would reduce the number of affiliates from 160 to 120, while realigning the minor leagues and restructuring the economic relationship between MLB and its affiliates, according to people familiar with those talks.
In negotiating sessions this week, Minor League Baseball dropped its earlier, stringent opposition to MLB’s contraction plan, a pivot that was caused in large part by the economic devastation being wrought by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The sides have been working since November to reach a deal on a new Professional Baseball Agreement to replace the one due to expire at the end of this year.
“We are working toward creative solutions wherein there will be 120 full season teams,” Minor League Baseball officials wrote in a letter sent to affiliates Friday, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post.
It was unclear which affiliates would be eliminated under the new plan, but the letter also noted some short-season teams “could have an opportunity to continue operating with professional players in a manner involving a connection with MLB.”
“Most [full-season] teams will continue in their same level of play and with long-term affiliations with their current MLB partners,” the letter said. “A few [minor league] teams will be required to move to different levels of play to accommodate the geographical needs of some MLB clubs and to recognize that the most advanced players should be playing in high-quality facilities.”
As part of the new alignment, several current short-season teams, including the Aberdeen (Maryland) IronBirds of the New York-Penn League, would survive the cut and be moved into full-season leagues, according to a source familiar with the discussions.
That could be detrimental to the future of the Frederick Keys — Baltimore’s high-Class A affiliate — who were on the list of teams proposed in November for contraction by MLB.
The new deal also would feature “meaningful changes in the relationship” and a “much tighter overall alignment” between MLB and Minor League Baseball, the letter said. But the net result would be “lower costs and higher revenues” for minor league clubs.
Minor League Baseball originally fought back against MLB’s contraction proposal, enlisting members of Congress in the effort to sway public opinion against the plan.
But the shutdown of sports in the United States amid the coronavirus pandemic has altered the economics of baseball in 2020. And while MLB is exploring ways to play a shortened big league season in empty stadiums — banking on revenues from lucrative television contracts — minor league teams, without the same TV revenue, would not be able to play without live fans.
Minor league officials expected some of its teams to be unable to survive a season-length shutdown, which led its negotiating team to drop its opposition of the contraction plan.
In its letter Friday, Minor League Baseball’s negotiators told the affiliates they are “more optimistic about the prospects for an agreement in the near term,” but that there remains work to be done, “and there is no certainty on outcomes.”