New minor league agreement could be bad news for Oriole fans - BaltimoreBaseball.com

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New minor league agreement could be bad news for Oriole fans

Photo Credit: Joy R. Absalon

As baseball waits to see when and if it can have a 2020 season, there’s more clarity on the future of the minor leagues, which has been a hot topic for the past six months.

The working agreement between Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball, which expires in September, has been the subject of contentious talks, which might be nearing an end.

MLB has wanted a reduction in affiliates because clubs believe that they should be concentrating on higher level minor league teams. Most of the players in the lower levels won’t make it in the majors.

MiLB didn’t react positively to the changes, which supposedly would eliminate 42 minor league teams, and their cause got support in Congress.

However, since the coronavirus pandemic hit, and the MLB season has been delayed with the possibility of the minor league season being eliminated entirely, the talks have been more cordial.

On Thursday, MLB and MiLB issued a statement that read: “The respective negotiating teams of Minor League Baseball and Major League Baseball held a constructive meeting on Wednesday. The parties are continuing their discussions, with the goal of concluding a mutually beneficial long-term agreement in the near future.”

If the MLB season begins in June or July in stadiums without fans, there’s little chance that there’s going to be a minor league season. Unlike the majors, which has huge television contracts, the minor leagues don’t, and playing without fans in their home parks is a non-starter.

Minor league teams could play games at their parent clubs’ complexes, serving as taxi squads for the major league clubs, but that means a season without authentic minor league baseball.

While MiLB’s plight had gotten popular support from legislators initially, the pandemic pushes that aside. Now, the two sides will presumably conclude an agreement, and MLB probably will get what they were seeking.

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In advance of this, MLB and the Players Association agreed on a slimmed down draft of five or 10 rounds this year. Next year, the minor leagues are likely to be much different than they were at the end of 2019.

MLB wanted to limit each major league team to four affiliates and short-season Rookie League teams, which play in Florida or Arizona before non-paying audiences.

Some teams have multiple teams that play at their complexes, and some have two short-season leagues, which MLB would like to eliminate.

MLB clubs have been under pressure to pay minor league players more, and they realize that few players selected in the second half of a 40-round draft become major leaguers. Teams would be free to sign non-drafted players. This year, those players can’t sign for more than $20,000.

The Orioles have five affiliated teams — Nortolk, in Triple-A’s International League; Bowie, Double-A Eastern League; Frederick, High-A Carolina League; Delmarva, Low-A South Atlantic League; and Aberdeen, Short-Season A New York-Penn League. In addition, Gulf Coast plays its games on a back field at the Ed Smith Stadium complex.

Baltimore’s minor league setup is arguably the most efficient in baseball. All five affiliates are within a four-hour drive, and three — Bowie, Frederick and Aberdeen — are within an hour of the Orioles’ offices.

But if there are only going to be four affiliates, one of them will have to go. There’s no logical team to eliminate.

None of their affiliates plays before small crowds. According to Ballpark Digest, Frederick had the highest average attendance in the Carolina League. Bowie is a convenient place for the front office to take serious looks at some of their best prospects, and Aberdeen is the nicest ballpark in the system.

One solution could be to elevate Aberdeen, whose season runs from mid-June to Labor Day, to a full-season team and allow a current affiliate to align itself with another team.

The Washington Nationals’ Hagerstown Suns, which was at one time an Orioles affiliate, played before an average crowd of just 918 at decrepit Municipal Stadium and could be eliminated as part of the restructuring.

If Frederick or Delmarva replaced it, that wouldn’t necessarily be good news for Oriole fans, but it would at least save baseball in those locales.

One of the complaints MLB has is poor traveling conditions in the minors. The South Atlantic League, where Hagerstown and Delmarva play, stretches from Lakewood, New Jersey to Rome, Georgia. That’s an 855-mile drive.

MLB and MiLB will supposedly work on more geographically desirable arrangements.

A loss of an Orioles affiliate might make sense economically but will hurt fans who’ve gotten used to attending minor league games around Maryland, tracking the progress of prospects.

Many have gotten to know Austin Hays, Trey Mancini and John Means by watching them play around the state, and if MLB mandates that a team has to go, it will be a sad time for Maryland and Oriole fans.

Follow Rich Dubroff on Twitter @RichDubroffMLB

10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. Boog Robinson Robinson

    April 24, 2020 at 8:33 am

    MLB is once again proving itself either extremely shortsighted, or completely blinded by the all-mighty profit margin. I wonder how many more of our nations youth Major League Baseball will lose to soccer & Lacrosse by cutting back on the game day experience in small town USA? The current system has lined the pockets of many, many a millionaire over the past 150 years, and yet they see a need for more, even if it’s at the game’s future’s expense.

  2. Mickraut

    April 24, 2020 at 11:16 am

    Amen.

  3. TxBirdFan

    April 24, 2020 at 1:02 pm

    I’ve never fully understood and appreciated the multiple minor league levels. Some major league teams have as many as 7 minor league teams. Sure – having depth like that helps when you draft somebody out of high school who needs more development (or if you pickup a couple of 16 year olds in a trade), but at what cost? The major leagues don’t really need more than 4 levels, and if major league ticket prices can be frozen or reduced if the number of minor league teams are reduced while still providing the necessary development, then I’m all for it. Independent League baseball can still flourish where the fan base is large enough to support a team so they won’t all go away.

    A few months ago I drove by the old ballpark for the Elmira Pioneers, a former Oriole franchise. The place is falling apart and I’m glad the O’s aren’t still supporting a franchise there. Things change, population centers move, and reducing the minors by a few teams seems a reasonable path forward.

    • dlgruber1

      April 25, 2020 at 2:57 pm

      I agree with most of what you said but there is a zero chance of MLB freezing prices. If it weren’t for the TV deals MLB has they would be in a world of hurt now. MLB is not the NFL where even lousy teams sell out. NFL teams only gave 8 home games as opposed to 81 for MLB and fans just aren’t going to see bad teams.

  4. NormOs

    April 24, 2020 at 5:07 pm

    The O’s have the best located farm system in the majors. Only MLB would screw around with a winner. I have read that they want The O’s to shed the Keys when they have the highest average attendance in the Carolina League. I guess if you’re around MLB long enough you feel stuff like that makes sense. You don’t have to be a O’s fan to know that you don’t rock a boat that’s moving steadily. Right now, the minor league teams of this organization are the only thing that makes any sense. I fear that Genius#1 will fix that.

  5. BirdsCaps

    April 24, 2020 at 11:03 pm

    I hate to call for getting rid of a team and a fan base, but wouldn’t the most logical thing be to get rid of Delmarva? They often have very low attendance and are the farthest from Baltimore ( along with Norfolk). The only reason I can see the birds choosing Frederick over Delmarva is because the birds want to keep the eastern shore firmly black and orange, and away from the Philly Phanatic. Also, assuming a game changing treatment in the next 1-2 months, could the minors become a fall ball league this year? Assuming something awesome happens, a late July-mid October season could work. There are a lot of assumptions there, but development is a huge part of professional baseball (there’s also a touch of longing for ironbirds games).

    • ClayDal

      April 24, 2020 at 11:33 pm

      The Orioles would not necessarily make the choice. MLB is proposing to eliminate the short season A and upper level Rookie League. Currently there are 40 teams that fit that description including Aberdeen of the New York-Penn League. Apparently, under the original proposal, 28 of those 40 teams would be eliminated. 12 teams, including Aberdeen would be promoted to full season affiliates along with 2 independent teams, St Paul and Sugar Land. So 14 teams that are currently full season would be replaced by as affiliates. From what I read, the leagues are going to realign geographically. Some leagues will have fewer teams and some will have more. It is possible that some of the surviving affiliates will move up or down in affiliation. All sorts of possibilities-Bowie and Aberdeen in the Eastern League. Bowie demoted to the Carolina League. Delmarva promoted to the Carolina League or eliminated. Once the dust settles, the Orioles can figure out who goes where

  6. Ekim

    April 27, 2020 at 12:26 pm

    I’ve not posted since the season ended. Rich, you were kind enough to email me during that time to ask why… and I thank you for it. My answer was that I was in “ hibernation “. I had NO idea that my somewhat smart ass answer was a precursor to the situation we are all in. Having explained my absence I will now expose myself to an almost certain “flaming”.

    As much as I love baseball I find the musings expressed here rather mundane when looking at the “big picture” and how our whole country will emerge from this debacle. As long as GOOFY is in charge, nothing else matters except personal survival. I wake up each morning to see what the pseudo king has proclaimed on Twitter and how much more difficult he’s made our lives. In the realistic order of things, baseball is no larger than a grain of sand. Nothing any of us opines here will mean anything if the country can’t get the current pandemic situation under control so, don’t get too serious about it.

    • NormOs

      April 27, 2020 at 8:02 pm

      Since this is NOT a political site, I suggest you keep your hatred to yourself. You don’t want people to think you’re an asshole, do you?

    • Ekim

      April 27, 2020 at 8:45 pm

      Hey Norm
      Now I know what the “O” behind your name stands for… just sayin…

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