Where it's harder to watch a Minor League Baseball game in 2021
When Minor League Baseball begins its 2021 season, there will be 25% fewer teams than there were at this time last year.
The state of play: The realignment removes a net of 40 teams from 2020, for a total of 120 teams across 39 states.
- 43 teams lost MLB affiliation. Two were Double-A clubs, while the other 41 were Single-A or lower.
- Three independent teams — the Somerset Patriots, St. Paul Saints and Sugar Land Skeeters — gained MLB affiliation.
Why it matters: The reshaping of the minors is a push toward modernizing MLB's development pipeline, but the changes will leave pockets of the country without access to high level baseball.
What they're saying: In a letter sent to Congress in 2019, MLB cited poor facilities, geographic inefficiency, and "too many players" as key challenges within the minor league system. So that's what this restructuring plan addresses.
- Higher wages: Due in part to fewer roster spots, player salaries will increase between 38 and 72%.
- Less travel: Big league teams will be an average of 200 miles closer to their Triple-A affiliates, and most will be within driving distance.
- Better conditions: Under the new structure, MLB will modernize facility standards and improve amenities and working conditions.
The other side: Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has vocally opposed MLB's plan since 2019, suggesting that it has "nothing to do with what is good for baseball" and "everything to do with greed."
- Sanders' local team, the Vermont Lake Monsters, were eliminated, leaving them without a big league club after 27 seasons with the Athletics (2011–2020), Nationals (2005–2010) and Expos (1994–2004).
- "Closing down Minor League teams ... is a disaster for baseball fans, workers, and communities across the country. I will do all I can to fight it," Sanders tweeted last week.
Between the lines: The 40 eliminated teams aren't all going away. Some will join independent leagues, while others will join the newly formed MLB Draft League, which focuses on draft-eligible prospects.
- The Mountain West states of Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, and Idaho were most affected by contraction. Losing seven teams hurt the largely rural states, whose best bet for baseball in 2021 are independent teams.
- Tennessee lost six teams, but the median distance to the closest team averaged across its counties only increased by 11 miles. The density of teams in the Carolinas and surrounding Southern states offset the losses.
- Vermont and West Virginia lost their only teams. The Lake Monsters' future is unclear, while the West Virginia Black Bears will join the MLB Draft League.
- The Twins' Triple-A affiliate shifted from Rochester, New York, to St. Paul, Minnesota, decreasing the state's median distance to a team by 135 miles.