Minor League Baseball is in a No Win Situation with the Major Leagues
How do you make changes something that has been ingrained in communities and peoples lives for generations upon generations?
That's the question facing Major League Baseball and it's developmental training ground, Minor League Baseball. It's a battle being fought in private and lately out in the open where almost everyone who is a fan or involved has an opinion.
The Minor League's have been a part of growing professional players for nearly 120-years and its teams have been located in faraway towns away from the spotlight. It's a system where the players are horrifically overpaid and travel often through multiple states on buses, living with generous families who take them in and provide room and board because the players can't afford apartments.
It's a tradition that has been largely unchanged over that 120-year span.
For the Major League teams who have agreements with and often supplement or pay and staff the Minor League operations, there's little if any profit and the amount of teams has slowly grown during that time. Most teams now have a AAA team, a AA team, 3 levels of Single A Ball plus, rookie/training leagues. We're talking 7 to 9 teams carrying players of different skill levels, some up and coming, some just placeholders.
Sure, there are other leagues with lengthy developmental systems. NHL Hockey has at least 2-3 levels of Minor Leagues. But the NFL and NBA, they don't. The NBA recently began a D-League, but that's as far as it goes.
The towns who host Minor League Baseball affiliates are often small. And quite honestly in many cases, going to a game in a Visalia, California or Lynchburg, Virginia, Peoria, Illinois or Eugene, Oregon is often the only sporting event or team the city has ever had. There's a certain nostalgia of going to a 2,500 seat baseball park in mid-June to watch a game. Quite honestly, it's a lot of fun.
But is it practical? Does it make sense to continue a model that's outdated, bloated due to the sheer amount of teams and largely inefficient? That's the dilemma facing pretty much all parties involved.
MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has not handled the PR aspect of this debate well, lashing out about reports the league is just looking to ax teams for financial gains. Realistically, there is much more to it. We now have Politicians such as Bernie Sanders chiming in too, threatening the league's "Anti-Trust" status over it. Mind you, that's a common threat anytime a politician hears from constituents about something Baseball does that they don't like.
Think about this from a practical perspective for a minute. How many Minor League Baseball players will ever make it to "The Show"? For example, if you have 8 Minor League Affiliates with 25 players on each team, we're talking 200 players in the system at a given time. Multiply that by 30 teams and we're talking at least 6,000 Minor League Baseball players at any given time competing for one of 780 Major League Baseball (26 per team) roster slots.
Do the math...it's not practical or sustainable.
Does MLB have enough money to supplement or afford these affiliates? Probably. Is it a good business or financial decision for them to do it? Probably not.
The whole thing is a battle similar to one being fought in most aspects of everyday life. How do you modernize something that has been in place for over a century? How do you change something that people think should be one way because it is the way a certain generation grew up and balance that with the practical needs of today? There's not an easy answer for it. Practically speaking, does MLB have a good case for eliminating Minor League Affiliates? Sure they do. As an example, the Atlanta Braves have 3 different Single-A Affiliates. Do they NEED three of those? No.... Does MiLB have an argument about how important they are to communities who don't have access to professional baseball without a team? Yeah, I get that too. Is it bad that we're talking about putting hundreds of behind the scenes workers who work for those teams out of a job. You bet, it's a totally crappy thing. But how do you resolve the argument?
The PR battle here isn't going to go away. There are still a large percentage of people who want to hold on and have life, business and other things continue like it has when they were young and growing up. That world is gone and is no longer practical.
Convincing stakeholders streamlining and modernizing and antiquated and romanticized system is the best for everyone involved. That's a whole other decision and one that I don't envy anyone for having to make.