There is a move afoot to dramatically alter how baseball develops players for the major leagues, and if you are a baseball fan concerned about how this could impact the ability of players from your community to make the big time, as remote a possibility that is, this is something you need to pay attention to.
Much of the proposal from Major League Baseball’s commissioner, Rob Manfred, is spelled out in an article that appeared over this past weekend in the New York Daily News. The central points of the plan, according to the newspaper:
-Eliminating over one-quarter (26% to be exact) of all current minor-league teams, a total of 42 of the existing 160, many of them in short-season “A” and “Rookie” class leagues
-The reduction of the MLB draft in half, from 40 down to 20 rounds, and moving it later in the summer
-Capping the total number of prospects a team can have in their minor-league system at 150
The plan is intended to help address a major issue that has cropped up in recent seasons – player pay in the minor leagues, which has seen calls for it to be increased, and has been the subject of legal action, and also may have been a factor in a recent high-profile signing of an American high-school player to play professionally in Japan.
So, how would such a proposal impact players either at the high-school, or college levels? Here’s what could happen as a result.
Elimination of teams: The issue regarding elimination of teams will be the big one, but ultimately, when you eliminate teams, you’re eliminating opportunities for guys to play at the professional level. According to the website Ballpark Digest, among the teams set to be eliminated include teams over in the Tri-Cities of Washington state (Richland, Kennewick and Pasco, WA) and down in Salem, OR, currently competing in the Northwest League short-season “A” league, the entire “Rookie” class Pioneer League, which functions primarily in the northern Rockies and includes teams in such locales as Missoula, Billings and Great Falls, MT, Idaho Falls, ID, and Grand Junction, CO; the entire “Rookie” class Appalachian League, with teams in the southeastern United States, and most of the New York-Penn League, the short-season “A” league with teams in the northeastern part of the country.
Many of these cities will be forced to replace their lost minor league teams with college-summer squads or independent league teams, which could open up opportunities for leagues such as the West Coast college summer league to expand. But, and no offense to the WCL, which we think of very highly and expect will grow into a western U.S. version of the storied Cape Cod League in the coming years, college summer baseball does not carry the same prestige as having a minor league team in your city. And the elimination of these teams also will result potentially in lawsuits, and those could get the sport tied up in court for many, many years, not to mention cost them a lot of political support in the future.
Reduction of the draft: This is the area that will be of most impact to homegrown athletes. Currently, with 40 rounds of the draft, teams draft from all over the place – players directly out of high school, college underclassmen and college seniors. But there has been a decided lean over the years by clubs to draft college seniors as opposed to the other classes of players. But teams drafting college seniors aren’t simply doing that because those kids are good, they’re also doing it because it’s cheaper for them to do so. With the lack of negotiating leverage college seniors have because their amateur eligibility has expired, often times those players are having to sign in essence we think “take it or leave it” standard contracts, allowing teams to use the money that would have gone to that particular selection elsewhere.
It should be expected that with a reduced draft, more emphasis will be given to drafting the college seniors again to exploit the financial advantage for clubs in doing that and also because of the lack of leverage for the players.
-Player caps: Another area that will result in the loss of opportunities potentially for homegrown players. Every team invests significant amounts of money in their international development – Latin America, Asia, other places. And you see the results of that development on every major league club, including the Mariners, Dodgers, Cubs, Red Sox and Yankees. Those players are talented, that’s for sure. But with the roster size caps, this means players from the United States will have to compete harder for spots against international-born players, and could find themselves at a disadvantage in a lot of cases. Again, reducing opportunities for homegrown players to make it to the pro level, not that it wasn’t already tough to begin with.
It should be also noted by the way that, according to the Daily News story, the plan was reportedly concocted by the Houston Astros. Yes, the same Astros who are the subject of a current MLB investigation into alleged cheating in the form of electronic-aided stealing of other teams’ “signs” during games, the hand gestures that are used by coaches and players to call plays on the field. Why this proposal has so much traction when it’s been shown to have been proposed by an organization that allegedly, and we’ll see what MLB’s investigation comes up with in the coming weeks, has engaged in some of the most unethical behavior imaginable, is beyond us to comprehend. Hopefully, now that more national media is getting on this story, and the larger discussion surrounding it, perhaps this plan, and the fast-tracking of it (it’s set to begin in 2021 pending MLB owners’ approval), can be derailed. We hope that it is derailed, for the sake of those homegrown players who have dreams of making it to the big time and are putting the hard work in to give themselves a chance to realize it.