So much about baseball in 2020 is uncertain. We don’t know when — or even if — a major-league season will begin.
It’s been widely assumed, if there is a MLB season, that teams will create 30-man rosters and 20-man “taxi squads” and that there likely won’t be a 2020 season for minor league clubs at all. One of the reasons for this is that unlike MLB, minor-league teams make virtually all their money from fans in the stands and games with fans aren’t likely to be approved in most jurisdictions in North America this summer.
None of this, though, prepared any of us from the announcements that trickled out Thursday about teams cutting massive numbers of minor league players. Here are just a couple of those reports:
#STLCards another team releasing minor leaguers today, according to multiple sources. Known teams to make cuts: Mariners, Brewers, Reds, Mets, Nationals, Orioles, Rockies, Braves, DBacks, Rays.— Robert Murray (@ByRobertMurray) May 28, 2020
The Mariners’ recent minor-league cuts were extensive. They released more than 50 players, according to sources.— Robert Murray (@ByRobertMurray) May 28, 2020
In fairness, as noted by Jeff Passan at ESPN.com, many of these players would have been released anyway during a normal spring training as both MLB and MiLB teams prepared rosters for the season. Obviously that didn’t happen this year. Other MiLB players might have been released around this time of year as MLB teams prepared to add players they selected in the June Draft to their affiliated squads. But this year, there will be only five rounds of the draft instead of 40, so that doesn’t really apply.
NBC Sports Chicago’s Maddie Lee reported late Thursday that the Cubs are one of the teams releasing players:
The Cubs have released 30 minor league players, NBC Sport Chicago learned on Thursday, contributing to a massive wave of cuts across baseball.
According to a post on Brock Stewart’s verified Twitter account, the Illinois native was among those who the Cubs released on Thursday. The 28-year-old right-handed pitcher was a non-roster invitee at Spring Training this year.
Carlos Asuaje, an infielder who previously played for the Padres and who was also a NRI at Cubs camp this spring, was reported to be released in this article in The Athletic. Neither Stewart nor Asuaje had any real chance at the Cubs’ 26-man roster in a normal season, but both would probably have been on the Triple-A Iowa squad. Now they’re both unemployed.
There is one bit of good news regarding Cubs minor leaguers from the NBC Sports Chicago article:
NBC Sports Chicago confirmed that the Cubs have committed to paying weekly stipends to their minor leaguers though at least June, a month longer than required. That includes the players who were released Thursday. The Athletic was the first to report the continuation of Cubs farm system stipends.
Those stipends were previously reported to be $400 per week through May 31, so it’s good that the Cubs are continuing at least that. That’s not nothing, but it’s not very much money, either.
And that’s the bad news. The worse news is that, as you know, Major League Baseball has begun going down the road of contracting around 40 Minor League Baseball teams. Releasing all these players seems part of the “normal” practice of baseball, but in the end, fewer minor-league players being paid by MLB teams now appears to be part of MLB’s plan to simply have fewer of these players in affiliated ball in general. And with minor-league salaries mostly very small, the amount of money MLB teams are saving was neatly summed up in this tweet:
Expect most teams to make minor-league cuts in coming days. Said one agent: “40 players per team just got whacked so the club could save $50k/month. This is the equivalent of trying to save money by cutting out your daily Starbucks trip but still driving an X5 you can’t afford.”— Robert Murray (@ByRobertMurray) May 28, 2020
The agent quoted obviously has skin in this game, but he’s not wrong. Pay for minor-league players is a tiny amount of MLB teams’ budgets. Cutting these players and teams is going to go a long way down the road of killing baseball in this country. Some of the cities MLB is proposing getting rid of affiliated baseball have a franchise history going back more than a century.
Further, with a shorter draft, what sort of message is MLB giving to kids who might want a pro baseball career? In the long run, this is going to tell kids starting high school ball who are dreaming of the big leagues: “You might as well forget it and play another sport.”
None of this is good for baseball’s future. Don’t blame the Cubs, they’re just doing what all the other teams are. This is a baseball-wide failure, in my opinion. And if they can’t get a 2020 MLB season — in whatever form — started within a few weeks, that’s going to put baseball even farther from the hearts and minds of sports fans. Clearly, that’s not good.
I’m going to leave you with this thought. Here’s another report from Thursday evening:
Sources: David Price will pay out of his money $ 1,000 during the month of June to each minor league player in Dodgers system (40-man roster not included) according to multiple sources. Beautiful act if we count that Price hasn't played yet in MLB with @Dodgers. RESPECT.— Francys Romero (@FrancysRomero10) May 29, 2020
That’s very generous of David Price, but as our own Sara Sanchez pointed out in response to that tweet:
Guggenheim Baseball Management owns the Dodgers and is run by Mark Walter, the CEO of Guggenheim Partners which manages $270 BILLION of assets.— Sara Sanchez (@BCB_Sara) May 29, 2020
David Price's entire 7 year $217 million deal is worth less than 1% of that, and he's literally doing more for minor leaguers. https://t.co/uae3bGUqou
That neatly sums up the dispute between the billionaires (owners) and millionaires (players) in getting baseball going in 2020. I know whose side I’m on.