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MLB Finally Pulls the Trigger on Minor League Changes

by Paul Reeths
December 10, 2020 - Major League Baseball Draft League (MLBDL)

Wednesday the magnanimous overlords of Major League Baseball and its member teams sent out invitations to the minor league teams it had chosen to remain in affiliated baseball. Many of the minor league organizations were at least taking the time to look over the invites before accepting, but their participation is largely a fait accompli.

Affiliated teams have their player and coaching payrolls covered by their Major League partners, removing a significant operating expense. Unlike previous agreements which would expire every two years, the new deals reportedly won't conclude for a decade. Other details of Major League Baseball's take-it-or-leave-it proposals have not been divulged, but the ramifications are being felt across the country today.

One newcomer to the affiliated minors will be the St. Paul Saints, a team which made a cottage industry out of playfully thumbing its nose at a market-sharing MLB franchise since the re-establishment of independent baseball in 1993. The Saints will now operate under that same MLB franchise as the Minnesota Twins' Triple-A representative. St. Paul joins other formerly independent teams the Sugar Land Skeeters and Somerset Patriots, which skipped out of the indy leagues earlier this year in search of affiliated ball's greener pastures.

The Wichita Wind Surge, which had been set to debut in a brand-new, $75 million ballpark in the AAA Pacific Coast League before the pandemic canceled the 2020 season, will instead get knocked down to AA to host a Twins' affiliate. Thrown down even further will be the Fresno Grizzlies, sliding all the way from AAA to low-A ball in the California League. After a dalliance with AAA, the San Antonio Missions will return to AA, likely placing the dream of a new facility on hold for the foreseeable future.

The Frederick Keys revealed it was the sixth squad invited to Major League Baseball's Draft League, MLB's scheme to avoid paying first-year players for a season by operating a college wood-bat league. The move will include a drastic reduction in the number of games the Keys play.

The Boise Hawks, with efforts to fund a new ballpark in the Idaho city stagnated, are bumped to the newly-independent Pioneer League. Though the Pioneer League will received some early start-up funds from MLB, one wonders how long it will be before the majors withdraw support completely.

Other shifts occuring on a league-wide scale include the Midwest League moving from low-A to high-A, and the Northwest League from short-season ball to high-A. Conversely, the California League and Florida State League will slide from high-A to low-A. A new, as-yet-unofficial league will also debut in the East, drawing teams from existing leagues.

While each minor league team receiving an invitation expressed its gratitude to its Major League dance partner, several minor league franchises were left out in the cold, some clinging to hope of a college wood-bat league invite or independent league spot.

Those teams and their reported plans:

  1. Auburn Doubledays (New York-Penn League) - likely shutting down
  2. Batavia Muckdogs (New York-Penn League) - likely shutting down
  3. Burlington Bees (Midwest League) - hoping to continue
  4. Charlotte Stone Crabs (Florida State League) - shutting down
  5. Clinton LumberKings (Midwest League) - hoping to continue
  6. Florida Fire Frogs (Florida State League) - likely shutting down
  7. Hagerstown Suns (South Atlantic League) - unlikely to continue
  8. Jackson Generals (Southern League) - hoping to continue
  9. Kane County Cougars (Midwest League) - hoping to continue
  10. Lancaster JetHawks (California League) - likely shutting down
  11. Lexington Legends (South Atlantic League) - hoping to continue
  12. Lowell Spinners (New York-Penn League) - likely shutting down
  13. Norwich Sea Unicorns (New York-Penn League) - hoping to continue
  14. Salem-Keizer Volcanoes (Northwest League) - hoping to continue
  15. Staten Island Yankees (New York-Penn League) - shutting down
  16. Tri-City ValleyCats (New York-Penn League) - hoping to continue
  17. Vermont Lake Monsters (New York-Penn League) - hoping to continue
  18. West Virginia Power (South Atlantic League) - hoping to continue

The Tri-City ValleyCats for one learned their fate when viewing the list of invited teams online. The Houston Astros, the architects of MLB's plan to take over the minors, didn't even bother to call them after working with Tri-City the past 18 years.

It's a new day in Minor League Baseball and Major League Baseball is calling all the shots now.

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Major League Baseball Draft League Stories from December 10, 2020

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