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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

What happens now that emergency orders are lifting

Expand chart
Data: National Academy for State Health Policy and various governor declarations; Chart: Sara Wise/Axios

Soon, more than half the states will have ended their formal emergency declarations for the pandemic — which could have ripple effects across the economy.

Why it matters: Lifting those orders will allow businesses to serve more customers, but will also end certain safety nets, including expanded food and housing assistance, as well as eviction protections.

Updated 3 hours ago - World

500 Hong Kong police officers raid pro-democracy newspaper

Chief Operations Officer Chow Tat Kuen (front 2nd R) is escorted by police from the Apple Daily newspaper offices before being put into a waiting vehicle in Hong Kong on Thursday. Photo: Anthony Wallace/AFP via Getty Images

Hong Kong's Apple Daily said 500 police officers searched the pro-democracy newspaper's offices and arrested five senior executives on Thursday.

Why it matters: The arrests of the paper's chief editor, Ryan Law, along with its chief operating officer, two other editors and the CEO of Next Digital, which operates Apple Daily, were made under China's national security law — which gives the government broad power to limit people's political freedom.

World Bank rejects El Salvador's request to help implement bitcoin

President Nayib Bukele, giving a speech in El Salvador's legislative assembly in San Salvado earlier this month, pushed for bitcoin to become legal tender. Photo: Emerson Flores/APHOTOGRAFIA/Getty Images

The World Bank has rejected the government of El Salvador's request to help the country implement Bitcoin as legal tender, Reuters first reported late Wednesday.

Why it matters: The international lender's rejection could hamper the government's goal of making the digital currency accepted across the country within three months.