MLB threatens to abandon minor leagues as talks about eliminating teams grow contentious

Sports
Rob Manfred

Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred speaks to the media at the owners meeting in Arlington, Texas, Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

SAN DIEGO, Ca. (CBS) – Last week during the Winter Meetings, negotiations between Major League Baseball and the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues (a.k.a, the minors) regarding the next Professional Baseball Agreement grew contentious. MLB has proposed eliminating 42 minor league teams when the PBA expires next year and, understandably, minor league clubs are not happy.

“Major League Baseball has been and will remain flexible in its negotiating position,” commissioner Rob Manfred said during the Winter Meetings. “I hope that Minor League Baseball, which has taken the position that they’re not willing to discuss anything but the status quo or any changes that would provide for upgrades in adequate facilities — better working conditions for our players — that they move off the take-it-or-leave-it status quo approach and come to the table and try to make a deal.”

Friday night MiLB issued a four-page memo blaming MLB for “repeatedly and inaccurately” portraying MiLB’s stance in PBA negotiations. The memo included information on facilities, travel, subsidies, relocation, and other key points. In response to the memo, MLB issued a statement threatening to essentially abandon the minor leagues entirely:

“If the National Association has an interest in an agreement with Major League Baseball, it must address the very significant issues with the current system at the bargaining table. Otherwise, MLB clubs will be free to affiliate with any minor league team or potential team in the United States, including independent league teams and cities which are not permitted to compete for an affiliate under the current agreement.”

Note that the “very significant issues” boil down to MLB and the individual owners wanting to save money. MLB subsidizes the minor leagues by paying salaries for players, coaches, and support staff, and also paying for some equipment (i.e., Trackman), though they don’t get a cut of the profits. MLB is trying to strong-arm the minors into a more favorable agreement.

The National Association released the following statement Saturday:

“MiLB agrees with MLB that contentious public statements are not conducive to the ability to conduct serious and good faith negotiations. However, as we are dealing with a matter of compelling public interest, we believe all should agree as well that accuracy in the public commentary is of the utmost importance and that the dissemination of non-conforming ‘information’ serves no proper purpose. We sincerely hope that we can move forward with MLB in the spirit of the excellent partnership we mutually have enjoyed for so many years and reach agreement on a new PBA that is in the best interests of the game of Baseball and its future in communities across America.”

The current PBA will expire following the 2020 season. As part of a proposal submitted earlier this year, MLB identified 13 minor league teams that would cease operations in 2021, plus 29 others that would lose their Major League affiliation and essentially become independent teams. Several short-season minor leagues would be eliminated in the process.

Negotiating through the media benefits no one — it would seem to work against MLB given the communities impacted by their proposal — and it distracts from what has been a fun offseason to date. The minor leagues could definitely use some reshuffling so leagues make more geographic sense. Otherwise, cutting minor league teams is little more than a blatant cash grab that benefits no one except MLB and the owners. Players and fans all lose out.

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