MLB Rumors: Major League Baseball and MiLB are expected to agree on a deal to reduce the number of minor league non-complex-league affiliates of major league teams to 120 for the 2021 season, per J.J. Cooper with Baseball America.
MLB has been working to reduce the number of minor league affiliates in recent months, with the league arguing that there is not a need, from a player development standpoint, for so many teams, and the cost involved does not justify keeping these teams afloat. The counter-argument is that minor league teams provide a connection to professional baseball in small towns that otherwise wouldn’t be exposed, live and in person, to the pro game.
I am sympathetic to both sides of this argument — if you live in an area that is losing its team, that hurts. That being said, the primary purpose of the minor leagues is for player development, and if we were starting from scratch, we’d probably have a smaller number of affiliates that there are now. Facility and travel issues for many of the short-season leagues are also problematic.
I know the conventional wisdom on this is that MLB is just money-grubbing and killing off teams to save a few bucks, but 38 teams drew fewer than 2000 fans per game last year, with several Florida State League and Appalachian League teams drawing fewer than 1000. I can understand why such a move would be made.
Interestingly, Cooper says that there would be 42 of the current 160 minor league affiliates eliminated under the current plan, with the Independent League St. Paul Saints and Sugar Land Skeeters brought into the MiLB fold. St. Paul would presumably be an affiliate of the Minnesota Twins under this scenario, while the Skeeters would be an affiliate of the Houston Astros.
UPDATE — Minor League Baseball has released a statement saying that reports that there is an agreement on contraction are false, and there is no such agreement. So stay tuned...