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What’s going to happen to the Minor Leagues during the lockout?

A FAQ about the minors and the lockout. The good news is that you will still have many chances to watch baseball.

Four Winds Field in South Bend
Casey McDonald/South Bend Cubs

With Major League Baseball locking out the players and the first week of the season, at least, cancelled, you might have some questions about how this is going to affect the minor leagues. I’m going to try to answer those questions the best that I can.

Will the minor league season start on time?

Yes! This is the easiest question to answer. The minor leagues will continue to play as scheduled. I realize that this is something that many of you already know, but it is well-worth emphasizing: Minor league games will happen as scheduled.

The Triple-A season will start on Tuesday, April 5 and will last 150 games. Double-A, High-A and Low-A will all start on Friday, April 8. The Double-A season will have 140 games while High-A and Low-A will be 132 games.

Rookie ball at the team complexes in Arizona and Florida will start in June as usual.

You should check with your local minor league team for when their schedules, but as for the Cubs affiliates, here is who they will be playing on Opening Night and as well as their home opener.

Iowa Cubs: At Buffalo on April 5. Home opener against Toledo on April 12.

Tennessee Smokies: Hosting Chattanooga on April 8.

South Bend Cubs: Hosting Quad Cities on April 8.

Myrtle Beach Pelicans: At Charleston on April 8. Home opener against Augusta on April 12.

Almost all of the regular minor leaguers will be playing.

Almost all? So who won’t be playing?

The Major League Baseball Players Association represents every player currently on the 40-man roster. So if a player is on the 40-man roster, he’s locked out and can’t play in the minors. That’s the case even if the player has never played in the major leagues.

You can look over this list of the Cubs’ current 40-man roster. None of those players can appear in minor league games. The Cubs players who are on the 40-man but who have never played in the majors are:

Miguel Amaya—Catcher
Alexander Canario—Outfielder
Anderson Espinoza—Right-handed pitcher
Christopher Morel—Third baseman/Outfielder
Ethan Roberts—Right-handed pitcher
Nelson Velazquez—Outfielder
Alexander Vizcaino—Right-handed pitcher

There’s also left-handed pitcher Brailyn Marquez, who just had that two-thirds of an inning of relief on the final day of the 2020 season.

In addition to those eight players, there are several others such as Tommy Nance, Scott Effross, Cory Abbott, Alfonso Rivas, Greg Deichmann and others who are on the 40-man but are not established major leaguers and would be expected to be in the mix for a spot on the Opening Day roster. Failing that, they would be sent to Iowa, most likely.

All of those players are locked out, just like every other major leaguer, and can have no contact with the Cubs or anyone from MLB. They will get strike pay from the union starting on April 1, which is going to be a lot higher than their minor league salaries were in 2021. Financially they should be OK, but there are legitimate fears as to how this lockout will affect their development.

What about players signed to a minor-league deal with an invite to Spring Training (NRI)?

You ask a lot of good questions. The bottom line is that no one is really sure at the moment. These players can report to minor league Spring Training and they can play in the minor leagues when the season starts. They are not covered by the lockout. I assume that most or all of them will report to Triple-A or Double-A affiliates. It’s possible that a few might decide to wait until major league Spring Training starts, but I think most of the players who signed NRI deals this winter had to know that this was a possibility going in to the winter.

But what happens if the owners and players reach an agreement after the minor league season starts, as now seems likely? No one knows. Do those NRI players stay in Iowa, or do they head down to Spring Training in Arizona? Their first instinct might be to head to Arizona and fight for a job, but would they be able to show the front office more playing every day in Triple-A? Plus, unless something changes in the new collective bargaining agreement, Spring Training is unpaid. Players who sign as minor league free agents don’t make anywhere close to what major leaguers make, but they make a lot more than that minor league scale that you’ve seen quoted in other articles. Some of them have six-figure contracts, although they are often non-guaranteed.

The players the Cubs have signed to an NRI deal are:

Matt Dermody—Left-handed pitcher
Stephen Gonsalves—Left-handed pitcher
Locke St. John—Left-handed pitcher
Jonathan Holder—Right-handed pitcher
Mark Leiter Jr.—Right-handed pitcher
Kevin McCarthy—Right-handed pitcher
Eric Yardley—Right-handed pitcher
John Hicks—Catcher
P.J. Higgins—Catcher
Dixon Machado—Shortstop
Ildemaro Vargas—Infielder

What about the Rule 5 draft?

Unless the labor dispute is settled in the next week or two, it’s looking more and more like there won’t be a Rule 5 draft in 2022. The 40-man roster that protected players from being drafted by other teams was frozen in November before the lockout. The last thing teams want to worry about is an unprotected player having a breakout start to the season in April and then getting taken by another team in a Rule 5 draft in May. Some teams are already talking about closing minor league Spring Training to the public because they don’t want rival scouts seeing which unprotected players made big gains over the winter.

If there were to be a Rule 5 draft mid-season, you’d have to think that some teams would start benching unprotected players who showed gains or bounced back strong from injuries early in the season for fear of losing them in the draft. And no one wants that.

If the lockout isn’t settled before late March, any Rule 5 draft would be a total mess. That doesn’t mean it won’t happen, but it seems unlikely.

If I don’t want to support the owners, shouldn’t I boycott the minors too?

I can’t tell you what to do, but I think that skipping minor league baseball out of anger over the lockout would hurt you and the minor league owners a whole lot more than it would the major league owners. Most minor league teams are not owned by their parent club and the Ricketts family does not own any of the four, full-season Cubs affiliates. The men and women who work hard to bring you minor league baseball do not work for Rob Manfred. The commissioner’s office has a lot of say as to how the minor league teams run their business since the reorganization of the minors after the cancelled 2020 season, but they do not get most of the profits.

I do say “most” because the parent club of a minor league affiliate does get a small kickback on the sale of every minor league ticket. But the money that MLB collects from Minor League Baseball is far, far outweighed by the money MLB sinks into the minors in the form of salaries and other costs. MLB is not making a profit on the minors. That comes later when the players make the major leagues.

The billionaires who run the sport are not going to change their behavior because they’re not getting the two bucks that they might get from a minor league ticket you purchase. But the money that the minor league owner gets from you buying a ticket, plus all that you spend on parking and concessions and what have you, makes a real difference to them.

What I’m saying is that boycotting a minor league game is like cutting off your nose (or maybe someone else’s nose) to spite your face.

How can I watch minor league games?

Good question. Other than going down to the nearest park, you can always sign up for MiLB.tv, which will have the video of most minor league games. It works pretty similar to how MLB.tv works. The broadcasts are not major league quality, but most are pretty good. Almost all are also broadcast in HD these days. You will only be able to watch the home team feed (no minor league team sends a camera crew on the road), but almost every game is available. There are still some teams that had not set up a video broadcast of every game as of last year, but more and more teams add a video broadcast every year. Eventually, a team will have to have one of every game or risk losing their affiliation.

One other good thing about milb.tv: Almost no blackouts. There used to be a couple of teams that blacked out their broadcasts in their local area, but I don’t know if they still do. Even so, the Cubs affiliates were not among those that enforced a blackout.

Rookie ball games are not broadcast. Sorry.

As I said, the quality of the broadcasts range from almost major-league quality to mediocre. I can very proudly say that all four of the Cubs minor league affiliates have superior quality broadcasts that rank among the best in the minors. They certainly don’t have all the camera angles that you’d get on a game on Marquee, but all of them are in HD and they don’t just have one camera behind home plate like some teams have. So if you’re just signing up to keep an eye on the Cubs games, you will only have to worry about the quality of the road broadcasts.

The cost of milb.tv is $39.99 for the entire season. But some teams have offered promo codes for $10 off in the past and if they do it again, that makes it an even better deal. Follow their social media accounts to see if they do it again this year.

Of course, Marquee Sports Network broadcast several minor league games last season and one would presume that they will do more of that as long as major league games aren’t being played. I would assume that other regional sports networks will also broadcast minor league games, so check your local listings.

Will you continue to do the Minor League Wrap and other minor league updates on this site?

Of course. I’ll try to come up with as many bad puns on minor league nicknames as I have in years past.

So there will be baseball?

Yes. And don’t punish yourself by refusing to check it out.