Dec 11, 2019 - Sports

MLB's plan to overhaul its minor league system

Illustration of a crying baseball

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

As part of MLB's desire to overhaul the minor league system and streamline player development, it wants to sever its parent-club relationship with 42 minor league teams, entirely eliminating some and reorganizing others into a lower-quality "Dream League."

Why it matters: Major league clubs currently provide and pay for the farm club's players and staff, leaving the minor league organization to cover things like fields, equipment and travel.

  • If that support disappears, it could be a death sentence for many of the teams listed above, putting cities across America at risk of losing parts of their culture and, in some cases, having their local economics shift.

The 42 teams, listed alphabetically:

  • A-C: Auburn Doubledays (N.Y.), Batavia Muckdogs (N.Y.) , Binghamton Rumble Ponies (N.Y.), Billings Mustangs (Mont.), Bluefield Blue Jays (W.Va.), Bristol Pirates (Va.), Burlington Bees (Iowa), Burlington Royals (N.C.), Chattanooga Lookouts (Tenn.), Clinton LumberKings (Iowa), Connecticut Tigers
  • D-I: Danville Braves (Va.), Daytona Tortugas (Fla.), Elizabethton Twins (Tenn.), Erie SeaWolves (Pa.), Florida Fire Frogs, Frederick Keys (Md.), Grand Junction Rockies (Colo.), Great Falls Voyagers (Mont.), Greeneville Reds (Tenn.), Hagerstown Suns (Md.), Idaho Falls Chukars
  • J-P: Jackson Generals (Tenn.), Johnson City Cardinals (Tenn.) Kingsport Mets (Tenn.), Lancaster Jethawks (Calif.), Lexington Legends (Ky.), Lowell Spinners (Mass.), Mahoning Valley Scrappers (Ohio), Missoula PaddleHeads (Mont.), Ogden Raptors (Utah), Orem Owlz (Utah), Princeton Rays (W.Va.)
  • Q-W: Quad Cities River Bandits (Iowa), Rocky Mountain Vibes (Colo.), Salem-Keizer Volcanoes (Ore.), State College Spikes (Pa.), Staten Island Yankees (N.Y.), Tri-City Dust Devils (Wash.), Vermont Lake Monsters, West Virginia Power, Williamsport Crosscutters (Pa.)

This is why presidential candidates like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, as well as other politicians, have come out against MLB's proposal.

  • It's got everything: Jobs, corporate greed and the blatant juxtaposition of billionaire owners trying to maximize profits while small-town baseball teams — organizations that provide their communities with an identity and a place to gather — suffer.

The other side: MLB contends that its plan is necessary to improve working conditions, and that eliminating hundreds of low-level players from the system will allow the league to increase minor league salaries across the board — an issue that was recently contended in the California Supreme Court.

  • The minor league system is old and bloated, and MLB believes it needs to be slimmed down and reorganized so that teams can focus on things like "analytics training" and spend less money and fewer resources on players with little chance of reaching the majors.

What to watch: MLB's current agreement with the minor league teams expires at the end of this upcoming campaign, which could "cast a certain pall over the 2020 season, as teams aim to, perhaps, play their way off the proverbial bubble."

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