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MLB and Minor League Baseball are still feuding

This is not a good sign for the future.

Come on, Rob Manfred. Do the right thing
Al Yellon

On Monday, a bipartisan Congressional resolution was introduced stating that the “sense” of Congress is that Major League Baseball should maintain the current structure of Minor League Baseball instead of going ahead with its proposal to eliminate 42 teams.

Rep. Lori Trahan of Massachusetts said this in a statement:

We launched the Save Minor League Baseball Task Force for a simple purpose — to help ensure a level playing field in the negotiations between MLB and Minor League Baseball so that they yield a fair resolution and protect minor league baseball in communities across the country. Congress has long been a partner to the league in protecting and expanding America’s favorite pastime. We deserve to have our voices heard in any conversation with such potentially devastating consequences. This resolution makes our position clear, and I am grateful to my fellow co-chairs and colleagues for their continued support of this effort.

In response, MLB issued this statement:

MLB is confident we can modernize or minor league system, improve playing conditions for our players, and protect baseball in communities across America. However, doing so is best achieved with Minor League Baseball’s constructive participation, and a recognition that they need to be a part of the solution. So far their approach has neither been constructive nor solutions-oriented. The most constructive role Congress can play to achieve these goals is to encourage Minor League Baseball to return to the bargaining table so we can work together to address the real issues impacting minor league players and communities all across the country.

The thing is, Minor League Baseball HAS been at the bargaining table with MLB, so that part of the statement is incorrect. MiLB fired back with this statement Wednesday:

Minor League Baseball was encouraged by the dialogue in a recent meeting between representatives of Minor League Baseball and Major League Baseball and a commitment by both sides to engage further on February 20. However, Major League Baseball’s claims that Minor League Baseball is not participating in these negotiations in a constructive and productive manner is false. Minor League Baseball has provided Major League Baseball with numerous substantive proposals that would improve the working conditions for Minor League Baseball players by working with MLB to ensure adequate facilities and reasonable travel. Unfortunately, Major League Baseball continues to misrepresent our positions with misleading information in public statements that are not conducive to good faith negotiations.

So you can see how well the two sides are getting along right now. MiLB sent a four-page letter to Commissioner Rob Manfred last week and it’s way too long to post here, but here’s a link to it and you should read it in its entirety.

The tl;dr of MiLB’s letter is this: MiLB says they are absolutely opposed to contracting teams. Eliminating short-season baseball would save each MLB team about $300,000 to $400,000 a year, which is peanuts to MLB. (MiLB is not including any proposed wage increase for minor leaguers in this calculation, but we’re still talking about less money than the annual rookie minimum.)

MiLB has proposed that MLB state which minor league teams have inadequate facilities and state what needs to be done to get them up to code. Those owners and cities would then be given a time frame to fix it. If they failed, the team would be taken over by MiLB who would sell the team to new owners who would either make the improvements or move the team.

The “Dream League” would be a financial disaster and would quickly fail, as have other independent leagues in similar markets. However, since MLB owners own every team in the Appalachian League, there’s nothing MiLB can do if they want to contract that league, but MiLB urges MLB not to do so.

The arguments that MLB is making that they need to limit the number of minor leaguers each team can have for “competitive balance” is ridiculous. Major league payroll differences are the big reason for that, not how many minor leaguers they have. And if MLB really wants to limit the number of minor leaguers, they can do so with Latin American teams or the rookie ball teams that play in the Spring Training sites.

One of the key paragraphs in Minor League Baseball’s letter to Manfred sums up the argument well:

It is simply not true that MLB “heavily subsidizes” MiLB. MLB teams do not pay MiLB owners and their partner communities that supply the facilities and league infrastructure that enable players under contract to MLB teams the opportunity to compete at a high level and establish whether they have the capability to play in the Major Leagues. MLB just pays its OWN player/employees and other costs directly related to their development. MLB does not fund or subsidize MiLB’s business operations in any form and, in fact, the amounts funded by MiLB to assist in the development of MLB’s players far exceed anything paid by MLB to its players, managers, or coaches at the Minor League level. Through the payment of a ticket tax to MLB, it is arguable that MiLB is paying a subsidy to MLB. Either way, talk about subsidies isn’t helpful or beneficial to the industry. The fact is that we are business partners working together to grow the game, entertain fans, and develop future MLB players.

This is the crux of the argument, in my view. The amount of money that MLB spends on Minor League Baseball is a pittance of the revenue MLB makes every year. In 2019 that amounted to $10.7 billion. Basically, they’re being cheap and they’re telling MiLB they want to be cheaper. If they succeed, they’ll not only be taking away opportunities from hundreds of aspiring baseball players, but they will wind up taking away inexpensive family entertainment from dozens of small cities across the USA.

Lastly, as noted in Minor League Baseball’s response, MLB’s claims are simply not true. That’s not the right way to negotiate. It would be nice if Manfred’s office told the truth and bargained with MiLB in good faith.