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MLB, Congress Go Back and Forth Over Minor Leagues

Brock Fritz

A Major League Baseball proposal to eliminate 42 minor league teams has caught the attention of the United States Congress.

More than 100 members of Congress signed a bipartisan letter, which can be read in full on www.theday.com, Tuesday to state their opposition to MLB’s proposal to cut the number of minor league teams to 120 by 2021.

“If enacted, it would undermine the health of the minor league system that undergirds talent development and encourages fan loyalty,” states the letter, which was co-authored by Lori Trahan and David McKinley and signed by 104 members of the House of Representatives. “It would particularly be felt in areas far from a major league team or where tickets to a major league game are cost-prohibitive.”

The MLB responded directly to congress with Tuesday night’s letter from Dan Halem, the deputy commissioner and chief labor negotiator for MLB. The letter said that the 160-affiliate system is overdue for a reshuffling, which would would improve the overall product. He also stated that MLB would help run an independent “Dream League” for many of the cut franchises.

“We know for a fact that many Minor League owners — including owners in districts represented by Members of Congress who signed the letter to the Commissioner — are presently attempting to relocate their affiliates to different cities or sell them outright,” Halem’s letter said, noting that a majority of MLB owners believe there are too many minor league players, which makes compensation and conditions less than ideal. “Most of the players on the rosters of rookie, short-season, and low-A teams are there to fill rosters so the Minor League teams can stage games for their fans, not because the Major League Clubs require all of those players to develop Major League talent.”

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred discussed the proposal in depth Thursday, noting there are four main reasons the league is looking to cut 42 teams. According to Newsday’s Laura Albanese, those reasons are (1) inadequate facilities, (2) untenable travel created by 77 franchises moving since 1990, (3) poor pay for minor leaguers, and (4) signing players who don’t have a realistic chance of making the big leagues.

The discussion has been going on at this week’s MLB owners meetings, while it will likely continue at the Winter Meetings in December. If approved, the proposal would go into effect after the Professional Baseball Agreement expires Sept. 30, 2020.

The proposal would impact 42 teams across 22 states.

"The abandonment of Minor League clubs by Major League Baseball would devastate our communities, their bond purchasers, and other stakeholders affected by the potential loss of these clubs,” Congress’ letter said.

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