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Expand chart
Data: MILB, MLB; Logos: SportsLogos.Net; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

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.

Data: MILB, MLB; Note: Calculated using the median distance from the center of each state’s counties to their closest current Minor League team; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Notes:

  • 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.

Go deeper

45 million Americans under winter storm watches near New England

Computer model projection showing the winds moving around the powerful East Coast storm on Saturday Jan. 29, 2022. Image: https://earth.nullschool.net

Nearly 45 million Americans are under winter weather alerts and warnings from North Carolina to northeastern Maine, as a major winter storm threatens the region.

Why it matters: It is predicted to be the biggest blizzard since 2018 to strike the Northeast with more than 2 feet of snow possible in parts of eastern Massachusetts, according to the National Weather Service.

2 hours ago - World

Australian PM pledges $700M for climate change-threatened Great Barrier reef

A green sea turtle is flourishing among the corals at Lady Elliot island in Australia's Great Barrier Reef. Photo: Jonas Gratzer/LightRocket via Getty Images

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced Friday a AU$1 billion ($703 million) investment plan for the Great Barrier Reef.

Why it matters: The nine-year plan for projects including water quality improvement, reef conservation and supporting some 64,000 tourism jobs comes months ahead of this year's federal election. It has been criticized by scientists and environmental groups for failing to tackle climate change.

Judge nixes Gulf of Mexico oil leases in climate-focused ruling

Tug boats prepare to tow the semi-submersible drilling platform Noble Danny Adkins through the Port Aransas Channel into the Gulf of Mexico on December 12, 2020 in Port Aransas, Texas. Photo: Tom Pennington/Getty Images

A federal judge on Thursday canceled the Biden administration's late 2021 sale of new oil-and-gas drilling leases in the Gulf of Mexico.

Why it matters: The ruling that the greenhouse gas emissions analysis by the Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) was insufficient is a win for green groups that challenged the decision, as they seek to curb fossil fuel production.