The working agreement between Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball expires after the 2020 season. As we get progressively closer to that deadline, both sides are farther apart than ever, and the negotiations are becoming nastier and more public.
At stake is the future of nearly a quarter of all Minor League Baseball teams, with 42 teams threatened to lose their major league affiliation should MLB’s plan be adopted. News of that proposal broke in November, which led to some public back-and-forth during the winter meetings in December.
Now things are even uglier, with MiLB issuing a statement on Wednesday saying, “Major League Baseball continues to misrepresent our positions with misleading information in public statements that are not conducive to good faith negotiations.”
MLB responded by saying MiLB’s letter included “inaccurate, misleading or inconsistent with the positions of your negotiating committee.”
How did we get here?
Congress got involved
Nothing says bureaucracy like setting up a task force, and four US Representatives did just that. Congresspeople Lori Trahan, David McKinley, Max Rose, and Mike Simpson are the co-chairs of the “Save Minor League Baseball Task Force,” and on Tuesday they issued a resolution, with 69 sponsors, in support of MiLB.
The resolution noted, among other things, “Abandonment of 42 Minor League Baseball clubs by Major League Baseball would devastate communities, bond purchasers, and other stakeholders that rely on the economic stimulus these clubs provide.”
MLB responded with a public statement of their own.
MLB has issued its own statement in response to today's Save Minor League Baseball Task Force statement. pic.twitter.com/RnPJO6KYXx— JJ Cooper (@jjcoop36) January 28, 2020
Minor League Baseball on Wednesday released a statement of their own:
“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.”
Minor League Baseball emailed a letter to Manfred on Jan. 23, outlining five key points that seem to be the sticking point in negotiations:
- Adequate facilities for full-season teams (Class-A, Double-A, Triple-A)
- Reducing the total number of players in short-season ball (rookie leagues)
With specific regard to cost savings, we understand that MLB has projected that the elimination of short season baseball would save each of the 30 MLB teams – all of which are valued at more than one billion dollars – approximately $300,000 to $400,000 in payroll costs per year, which, in the aggregate, translates to less than 1/10th of 1 percent of MLB’s revenues. These reduced employment related “savings” also represent significantly less than the cost to a Major League team of a minimum cost contract for a single Major League player and are also much less than the financial commitments undertaken by many of the potentially impacted communities to attract and provide facilities for Major League-affiliated teams.
- Continuation of the Appalachian League, which has 10 minor league teams owned by MLB
- Creation of a “Dream League” that would consist of unaffiliated minor league teams
- The costs of minor league teams
Manfred has repeatedly asserted that MLB subsidizes MiLB, though under the current professional baseball agreement that’s been in place since 1990, all minor league player contracts and benefits are paid by major league affiliates.
Per the letter to Manfred, “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.”
MLB responded with a letter from deputy commissioner Dan Halem refuting MiLB’s points, including, “The largest single cost in virtually every entertainment business is the cost of talent. Major League Baseball provides MiLB with free talent. The provision of this free talent is clearly a subsidy.”
Getting to the negotiating table is the only way Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball to get a deal done. As Halem noted in his letter, “When I was informed that MiLB was planning to send a letter to the commissioner, and then make that letter public, I told members of your negotiating committee that sending letters was not going to help us resolve our issues, and making such letters public would only further increase the acrimony on both sides.”
Maybe the public pressure, either through Congress or through various barbs by both sides, will spur both parties to a new working agreement. But for now, the rift is obvious and we’ll probably see this battle get even uglier before it’s complete.