Orioles' minor league arrangement could be vastly different a year from now - BaltimoreBaseball.com

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Orioles’ minor league arrangement could be vastly different a year from now

Photo Credit: Joey Gardner/FotoJoe

The Orioles have an ideal minor league structure. Four of their five minor league affiliates — Double-A Bowie, High-A Frederick, Low-A Delmarva and Short-Season Aberdeen — are in Maryland. The other, Triple-A Norfolk, is about a four-hour drive from Oriole Park.

That arrangement has worked out well for the Orioles. If they know they need a player by early afternoon, he can drive and get to Baltimore for a 7:05 p.m. start.

It’s convenient for the front office to visit the affiliates and check on the players’ progress.

That efficient working environment might no longer be the case if Major League Baseball’s proposal to lop off 42 minor league teams is enacted.

According to the proposal, which was shared with Baseball America earlier this month, major league teams would be limited to five minor league teams.

The Orioles have six, including Gulf Coast, which is a Rookie League team that plays at the Ed Smith Stadium complex in Sarasota, Florida, and is owned and operated by the Orioles. Those teams aren’t part of the proposed restructuring.

Massive geographic realignment is part of the proposal, including elimination of short-season leagues, such as the New York-Penn League, the league in which the Aberdeen IronBirds play.

Teams that are eliminated could resurface as part of a “dream league,” a proposed joint venture between MLB and Minor League Baseball. As part of their proposal, the June draft, which could move a few weeks later, would be cut from 40 rounds to 20, and undrafted free agents could play in this new league.

The IronBirds, who play in a terrific ballpark, Leidos Field at Ripken Stadium, could be moved from a short season to a full season league if the proposal plays out.

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The agreement between the major and minor leagues doesn’t expire until next September 15, and contentious negotiations are expected.

According to the proposal, each team would be limited to between 150 and 200 players under contract.

Minor league teams don’t have any specifics beyond what they’ve read. Frederick, which has long been one of the top three teams in attendance in the Carolina League, could be forced to change classifications.

Delmarva is probably in the shakiest situation. The Shorebirds play in the 14-team South Atlantic League that extends from New Jersey to Georgia. In this proposal, the league would drop to six teams and a new Mid-Atlantic League would be established.

Major league teams have long realized how much of a drain minor league baseball can be. Of the 49 players who played for the Shorebirds in 2015, just five have made it to the major leagues: utilityman Stevie Wilkerson and pitchers, Stefan Crichton, Donnie Hart, John Means and Tanner Scott.

Crichton and Hart made it to the majors with the Orioles despite being selected in the 23rd and 27th rounds of the 2013 draft. Their chances of becoming major leaguers would have been less certain had there been a 20-round limit on the draft.

Eliminating a short-season team would deprive players of a season to get adjusted to the rigors of the minors. Adley Rutschman, the overall No. 1 pick by the Orioles, spent a month in Aberdeen, and it provided a comfortable adjustment period.

There are inefficiencies that should be corrected. The New York Yankees have eight minor league affiliates, including two Gulf Coast League teams and teams in two short-season leagues, the New York-Penn League (Staten Island) and Appalachian League (Pulaski).

Several other teams, including the Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Dodgers and Philadelphia Phillies, have two entry-level teams in the Arizona Summer and Gulf Coast Leagues.

Many teams, including the Orioles, have two teams in the Dominican Summer League. DSL teams, like the Arizona Summer and Gulf Coast Leagues, are owned and operated by MLB teams.

Travel in the minors can be brutal. The Shorebirds’ longest trip to Augusta, Georgia is 9 ½ hours. Their shortest is a three-hour ride to Hagerstown. This reorganization would attempt to alleviate the most difficult of trips.

While the Orioles have a great minor league setup, the Nationals have an awful one. During the most recent realignment, which took effect after last season, the New York Mets purchased Syracuse of the International League, which had been a Nats affiliate, and Washington had no choice but to align with Fresno in the Pacific Coast League.

The Nats stashed some major league-ready players in Double-A Harrisburg so that they would be able to move them up on short notice instead of waiting a day for their arrival from Fresno.

Hagerstown, which was the Orioles’ first affiliate in Maryland and was part of their farm system from 1981-92, is affiliated with the Nationals. The Suns play in decrepit Municipal Stadium and could lose their status in a reorganization.

Eliminating a short-season league such as the Appalachian League, where the Orioles had a team in Bluefield, West Virginia from 1963-2010, would be unfortunate for the affected communities.

At a time when baseball struggles to maintain relevance among younger fans, leagues that are integral parts of smaller towns help grow the game. Baseball fans in those areas are often many hours from the closest big league team, and minor league baseball is a charming and low-cost entertainment option.

That unique part of Americana may be waning, and while it’s great that the Orioles and other teams have multiple affiliates closer to the big league teams these days, rural America’s traditional love for baseball shouldn’t be forgotten.

Minor league salaries are low, and eliminating teams is a way that MLB can pay minor leaguers more. Double-A players who haven’t been on a 40-man roster earn $1.750 a month for a five-month season. They also receive $20 a day in meal money  when they’re on the road.

While fans are fixated on the high salaries of major leaguers, the vast majority of minor leaguers never spend a single day in the majors. Rutschman’s signing bonus was a record $8.1 million, but most others receive far less.

The slot value for this year’s Orioles 10th-round draft choice, catcher Jordan Cannon, was $147,900, a nice bonus for you and me. However, unless Cannon makes it to the majors, that’s by far the most money he’ll see in pro ball. Late-round draft choices might be given just token bonuses of $5,000 or even less to sign.

In the end, there will be compromise, and it’s unlikely that 42 teams will be eliminated from minor league ball. But the guess here is that a year from now, the minor league landscape will be altered greatly.

Follow Rich Dubroff on Twitter @RichDubroffMLB

 

15 Comments

15 Comments

  1. The Cartoon Bird

    October 30, 2019 at 8:11 am

    Congress is starting to pressure MLB about compensation and working conditions of MiLB players. MLB’s proposal looks like the restructuring of Teldar Paper. We’ll increase compensation and improve working conditions…by eliminating half the positions and reallocating those expenses towards whomever remains.

    • Bancells Moustache

      October 30, 2019 at 9:23 am

      Blue Horseshoe loves Annicott Steel.

  2. Orial

    October 30, 2019 at 8:45 am

    Believe it or not I can see MLB’s reasoning for the restructure. Hey our whole country and financial structure is in dire need of a more cost efficient overhaul. Again Middle America will suffer the most losing their beloved locall,small town teams. But when some teams have 11 minor league teams while others have 7 something’s not right.

    • Borg

      November 2, 2019 at 8:29 am

      But that is like arguing that because one car dealership can afford eleven locations it is unfair to the smaller dealer who can only afford seven, Teams with more minor league teams have more money and spend it. They actually are developing players for the teams who don’t have as many minor league teams since there are still only 40 roster spots for each major league team. Now the smaller markets can wait while the bigger ones develop players, then take them in the Rule 5 draft or trade for them because the richer team doesn’t have room for them on the roster. Win-win.

  3. Tony Paparella

    October 30, 2019 at 9:15 am

    First of all there should be a level playing field with each organization given the same amount of minor league associates and not 2-3 more teams (Yankees,etc.) because they have the monies for it.I understand the part of trying to leviate some of the expense but when guys get 300 million dollar contracts it becomes confusing to me and I am sure a lot of other fans.Correct me if I am wrong but I believe they want the dream team league to be financed by private ownership and possibly under a different set of operating rules and monetary standards (to an extent) from a major league affiliate.This alleviates expenses some while still being able to dip into a dream team league for a player according to whatever rules are set forward in that area.I do agree riding buses for nine and a half hours should not be the norm.Some players will never have an opportunity to make the majors under those set of rules but matter of factly there are guys now on major league rosters that are not necessarily qualified at this point in their careers.I hope if these changes occur it does not diminish the game and take away opportunities for small city or remote areas to have an access to a professional type baseball team.

  4. Fareastern89

    October 30, 2019 at 9:38 am

    I’d hate to see communities lose their ball clubs, but geographical reorganization makes sense. I didn’t realize how widely dispersed the South Atlantic league teams are until I started planning trips to see each stadium in the league. As Rich points out, some of those bus rides are pretty grueling. Also, I believe MLB is actually being sued over the low minor league salaries, so legal pressure may have inspired some of these changes.

  5. Baltimore Castaway

    October 30, 2019 at 10:21 am

    This recasting of the Minor League landscape will be painful.

    Major League owners are always searching for ways to enhance their bottom-line profits. Having so many leagues with so many far-flung team locations has become burdensome and costly to sustain.

    With everything else that today’s Baseball Commissioner and Major League Owners do, it will be to the detriment of the integrity and traditions of the grand old game.

    Many small towns throughout the country have already lost their teams–which has never really gotten much attention.

    Interesting that these changes will favor (for the most part) locations closer to where the ML teams are. Small town America will lose their connections to the game of baseball. Better for profit margins, terrible for the long-term best interests of the game..

    Sad to see, but this is “progress” I guess.

  6. Ripcan08

    October 30, 2019 at 11:08 am

    This may be rest opportunity for the unaffiliated leagues like the Atlantic League to expand and grow a far better product. Attendance has been an issue for several years.

  7. Boog Robinson Robinson

    October 30, 2019 at 1:09 pm

    And here I was looking forward to some more World Series reporting. Specifically what you thought of last night’s butchered replay or non replay if you will. One more head scratching example of why instant replay should not be part of the grand old game.
    Just my not so humble opinion Rich.

    • Rich Dubroff

      October 30, 2019 at 2:01 pm

      I’ve written that interference calls should be reviewable. Wonder if it would have been overturned.

  8. bv22

    October 30, 2019 at 1:15 pm

    It will be interesting to see if the money saved by the reshuffling will really be reallocated into player salary. In spite of the lawsuit for better salaries for minor league players, I’m skeptical.

  9. whiterose

    October 30, 2019 at 4:15 pm

    Rich, why cant we respond directly to your responses?
    From previous article…I obviously know the in season event was for season ticket holders (I am one)
    But they cancelled that last year too.
    Two Q & A with GM and Mgr (including Fan Fest) were part of the benefit of season ticket account.
    Still say thet are trying to anger fans to use for another excuse to leave.

  10. WorldlyView

    October 30, 2019 at 5:46 pm

    Re the possible reorganization of the minor leagues–On the positive side, a geographical rationalization makes sense if teams within a league are closer together and all minor league teams are relatively close to their major league affiliate. On the negative side, anything which reduces the number of active prospects is a terrible idea. It would dilute the talent pool which is diluted enough already. The negative effects of having fewer teams could be partially offset by larger rosters; however, this could not happen if the total number of players under contract is reduced to some arbitrary number. Shrinking the number of draft rounds by five or ten makes sense, but not cutting down to 20. If that happens, the deep pocket teams will sign the vast majority of undrafted prospects as free agents, thereby helping to perpetuate their competitive strengths. If there were only twenty draft rounds and low ceilings on the number of minor league players a major league team can have under contract, the results would be crushing on smaller market teams. Under such a scenario, I can see the Yankees signing a hundred or more free agents, and creating their own independent or Canadian league which they would own and operate as their private farm system. In sum, any changes made in the structure of the minors that is designed simply to increase the profits of major league owners is suspect, to say the least. Finally, I wonder how much negotiating leverage Minor League Baseball has against the Bigs.

    • Rich Dubroff

      October 31, 2019 at 10:10 am

      Professor Cohen, you’ve used your background to construct an engaging response. The negotiating leverage MILB has against MLB is in Congress. Some of the newer minor league parks were built with taxpayer money and haven’t yet been paid off. If those franchises are eliminated, I’m sure MLB would be under attack in Congress.

  11. mmi16

    November 4, 2019 at 9:14 pm

    Teams should be permitted the same number and Class of minor league affiliates Sorry baseball doesn’t have the ‘guaranteed’ minor league systems that is College Football and College Basketball. If they want such a situation – stop selecting high school and foreign players.

    Developing top level employees cost all companies and industries big bucks. Baseball is no different.

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