Major issues still exist for minor league baseball in 2021 - BaltimoreBaseball.com

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Major issues still exist for minor league baseball in 2021

Photo Credit: Joy R. Absalon

Five weeks after expiration of the operating agreement between Major and Minor League Baseball, there’s still no clarity on what the minor leagues will look like in 2021 and beyond.

It is clear that the minor leagues will shrink. The Appalachian League, which the Orioles haven’t had an affiliate in since 2010, has been converted to a summer league for college freshman and sophomores.

At the end of October, Major League Baseball proposed that the New York-Penn League would be for draft-eligible rising college seniors. The Orioles’ short-season affiliate, the Aberdeen IronBirds, are in the New York-Penn League, but there are plans to move them to a full season league.

There are four full season affiliates: Norfolk (Triple-A), Bowie (Double-A), Frederick (High-A) and Delmarva (Low-A).

It appears in MLB’s plans to restructure the minor leagues, one of those would have to be sacrificed to accommodate Aberdeen.

Orioles executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias didn’t discuss specifics when asked about the team’s minor league plans for next season in Monday’s video conference call.

“I can’t make any of those announcements right now,” Elias said. “And the reason for that is that the talks at the league level are still ongoing, and we have not received any word about the overall structure. There’s info that trickles out of those discussions, but until any of that is certified, it wouldn’t be responsible to talk about that publicly.”

There was no minor league baseball in 2020 because of the pandemic, and its possible effect on 2021 is unclear.

The Orioles sent some of their most promising player to the alternate site at Bowie, and more went to last month’s Instructional League in Sarasota, Florida.

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Because there’s no agreement, there are no minor league schedules for next season and no shortage of speculation.

“I know they’re working on it,” Elias said of the agreement. “They’re making good progress. I think as we’ve said all along … we’re going to find out that player development in minor league baseball is going to be a very healthy spot despite the crisis that’s taken place due to Covid.

“I think we’re going to have a really good setup for what the needs are for the minors and for the fans across baseball for the next 25, 50 years, but that work is still being done.”

Unlike major league teams that have lucrative television agreements, minor league teams don’t have those kinds of deals. They rely on ticket sales for revenue, and they weren’t going to play without fans.

“With regard to next year, there’s nothing official yet in terms of any changes to what would be a normal minor league schedule,” Elias said.

“But I think we all know that it’s very possible that we may have to make some adjustments and not get back to normal right away. Some of that contingency planning is going on. Our opinions are being sought as player development people and heads of front offices, so we get involved with the league and some committees that are working on those contingency plans.”

If local governments don’t allow more than 10-to-25 percent capacity, which is what some NFL teams have been granted, it might not make sense for minor league teams to operate next season. One reason that minor league baseball is so attractive is that children can roam freely in a small ballpark, which couldn’t be permitted with social distancing.

Tickets and concessions are far cheaper than in major league parks, and many teams have free parking.

“I will say that I’m very optimistic and hopeful, and we’re all very motivated to have much more on the player development side than we had this year, no matter what occurs,” Elias said.

“That’s kind of the push from the league, and we’ve got to be prepared for a bunch of different things across the spectrum from a full, normal minor league season, which is everyone’s hope, to something that starts a little differently and morphs into a full minor league season to other options … we just don’t know what it’s going to be yet.”

Milone trade completed: The Orioles acquired infielders AJ Graffanino and Greg Cullen from the Atlanta Braves as the players to be named later in the August 30th trade for left-handed pitcher Tommy Milone.

Graffanino, the son of longtime major league infielder Tony Graffanino, was Atlanta’s eighth-round draft choice in 2018. He has hit .316 in 44 minor league games.

Cullen, the 15th-round pick in 2018, has hit .273 with 11 home runs and 91 RBIs in two minor league seasons.

Follow Rich Dubroff on Twitter @RichDubroffMLB

18 Comments

18 Comments

  1. Baltimore Castaway

    November 6, 2020 at 10:36 am

    Have to think that if the Orioles have to give up one of their MILB Teams that it should be Norfolk.

    People delude themselves into thinking that Norfolk is “only” 233 miles away—good luck with that drive. I drove back from there a month ago on a Sunday afternoon, it took me 6+ torturous hours on 64 and the 95, and then the Mixing Bowl CF and then the 295/95 freak show….

    Keep all their Franchises in the State of Maryland. The Aberdeen Ballpark is maybe the finest in all the Minor Leagues, the Bowie site was built to be convertible into a Triple A Ballpark, and Frederick and Delmarva are lovely and well-placed Minor League Sanctuaries.

    Triple A could be Bowie, Double A could be Aberdeen (or vice versa) Frederick could be High A and Delmarva could be the A League team.

    This is one true advantage that the Orioles have crafted for themselves over the years–the ability to observe and easily facilitate the management of their Minor League Teams all within an hour’s drive….the closeness of these teams to Baltimore also creates a Central Maryland Orioles Identity and Loyalty amongst their Fan Base..

    On a related note; I find it to be fraught with irony how the Billionaire MLB Owners and the MLB LAPDOG Commissioner Manfred is wantonly gutting the traditions and landscape of Minor League Baseball. They don’t care that much of small town America will no longer have a Baseball Team in their area to enjoy throughout the Summer. The downstream impact of this is much more deleterious and damaging that the near term monies they save now….what a bunch of jackasses they are indeed…

    Won’t they be shocked when they all wake up some day and realize that MLB has a lesser scale, reach and market value than the NHL…

    • ClayDal

      November 6, 2020 at 2:49 pm

      Problem there is the Orioles don’t own Norfolk. They have an affiliate agreement. The International League and the Pacific Coast League are the AAA teams. The leagues would have to approve Bowie as a league team.Unless the Orioles could convince the owners of Norfolk or any other International League team to move to Bowie, they can’t move there. So if the Orioles were to drop Norfolk, the Tides would be able to find another team to affiliate with. Sure the Nationals would dump Fresno for Norfolk in a minute. Don’t think the Orioles would want to be stuck with Fresno. So the Orioles most likely stick with Norfolk. Assuming there is a minor league season next year

  2. Mickraut

    November 6, 2020 at 10:48 am

    I agree. Jettison Norfolk and keep the Maryland locations.
    I enjoy catching Shorebirds games when I go over the bridge.
    The drive to Norfolk is a pain.

  3. Boog Robinson Robinson

    November 6, 2020 at 11:13 am

    I don’t think you’ll find a fanbase the size of Norfolk’s anywhere in the state of Maryland. And let’s face it, $$ talks. I also don’t think that the Angelos family cares if Oriole fans have a hard drive to see their AAA team. I’d be shocked if the Tides were to move.

    As I’ve said in the forum on multiple occasions … I do agree with B.Castaway in that the MLB owners are harming the fabric of the game as it’s been woven over the years in America’s heartland. The minor leagues in small towns across the country mean so, so much more to the future of the game than just player development and the bottom line.

    MLB couldn’t be more shortsighted in this regard. Already relegated to 2nd string, I hope I never see basketball or soccer surpass this game in national popularity, although I have no doubt at this point that it will be.

    MLB along with the restructuring of Little League and Babe Ruth and the concept of their travel teams, have assured the game’s lessening prominence over the years, in my mind.

    Shame on all.

    • Baltimore Castaway

      November 6, 2020 at 4:58 pm

      Absolute truth.

  4. WorldlyView

    November 6, 2020 at 3:29 pm

    It seems to me that the most absurd and self-destructive aspect of gutting or suspending minor league baseball is that it would diminish or destroy the ability of inexperienced players to develop into productive major leaguers. Diluting MLB’s talent pool (along with undermining small town interest in baseball) is the epitome of short-sighted, self-destructive, and non-cost effective penny pinching. I guess somebody needs to point out to MLB owners that baseball is too complex a game to allow high school and college prospects to succeed in the big time right out of school, as is possible in the NFL, NBA, & NHL.

  5. Dantor

    November 6, 2020 at 4:33 pm

    I live in Virginia Beach and go to all the Norfolk Tides games. Am an long time O’s fan for more years than I can count, and enjoy watching the young and rehab players come thru at Norfolk. Don’t forget, years ago the Tides were a AAA team for the Mets. Would not like to see the team be affiliated with another franchise. Looking forward to next season and seeing major and minor league baseball getting back to norm.(Hopefully)

  6. Bancells Moustache

    November 6, 2020 at 4:33 pm

    I understand all of you gentlemens perspectives on jettisoning Norfolk, but they aren’t going anywhere. Yes, it’s a hike for the Baltimore area fans but not for the Tidewater area fans who don’t have a Major League option closer than DC or Baltimore. Plus, if the Orioles want to increase the meat in the seats in Baltimore, Norfolk makes the least sense to cut. If anything, Bowie, Aberdeen and Frederick would be on the chopping block to make the market for pro baseball less diluted. Lets say I live in Carroll County and I want to go out with the kids to a ballgame. I can drive into the city and deal with city crap to watch the big league team, or I can go to Frederick and spend less money to see a Rutschman or Rodriguez. I’m still having a night at the ballpark. While having the affiliates closer to home is convenient for scouting and travel purposes, its actually impacts the bottom line and not in a good way.

    • Baltimore Castaway

      November 6, 2020 at 5:02 pm

      Nice to be called a “gentlemen’s”….

      The comments about Norfolk being protected are all too correct. Surely they will stay.
      I will give you all an alternative driving route down through Southern Md. much prettier…

  7. BobKominski

    November 6, 2020 at 6:15 pm

    There’s a lot of info already out there. One concern is to keep affiliates close by but in good markets – Norfolk is way to valuable for teh Os to abandon. St Paul is being changed from an Independent league team to AAA. Jacksonville is becoming the Marlins AAA team. A new Hi-A League is being created, and Aberdeen could well end up there. There are other ramifications – mid and low-minor league spring training likely won’t start until the major and high minor leaguers depart. Those lower leagues won’t start their season until May = shorter seasons. Collegeiate wood bat leagues will expand into those cities lowing low minor league teams.

    See details here:

    https://ballparkdigest.com/2020/11/02/details-of-mlb-takeover-of-milb-emerge/

    • Behemoth

      November 6, 2020 at 9:29 pm

      Does this really mean no affiliated ball below low A? What will teams do with high schoolers they draft? They’d get crushed in the Sally League.

    • ClayDal

      November 6, 2020 at 9:54 pm

      Most likely they would go to Sarasota for the Gulf Coast League

    • Rich Dubroff

      November 7, 2020 at 7:24 am

      John is right. Teams will maintain their clubs that they own in the Gulf Coast League. The draft will be in July this year, and we’ll see how much they actually play;

  8. willmiranda

    November 7, 2020 at 9:51 am

    I appreciate Elias’ abilities as a cheerleader, but promising “25, 50 years” of great stuff for fans all worked out this year seems a bit much. I have no expectations, or even hopes, of living so long; but I may well outlive whatever arrangements are made now. My fear is that the “25, 50” also refers to the timetable for the O’s rebuild.

    • CalsPals

      November 7, 2020 at 11:05 am

      LMAO, same thoughts…go O’s…

  9. BirdsCaps

    November 8, 2020 at 9:54 pm

    Wonder if Aberdeen becomes a full season a, double a or triple a franchise. The rumor from two years ago was turning Bowie into a penn league team and making Aberdeen a eastern league team. Besides the rumors, another hint has been the slow rebrand and logo change that has been creeping for the past few years and was front and center on the season seat holder packet. So would the penn league replace the cape cod league? Looking forward to full season baseball in Aberdeen!

    • Bancells Moustache

      November 8, 2020 at 11:59 pm

      I’d say that’s the most likely course of action. Aberdeen’s ownership group, specifically some dude named Ripken, probably has quite a bit of pull with the Oriole organization.

      • BirdsCaps

        November 9, 2020 at 2:29 am

        For some reason that Ripken guy seems more special than the rest of the owners of affiliates. I’ll have to get to the bottom of the favoritism:)

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