Major League Baseball teams are perpetually fixated on saving money. The league has awarded a title belt annually to the team that best suppressed player salaries - an award that still was given this year albeit sans hardware after public outcry - and the average fan has become surprisingly familiar with terms like “years of control”, “service time”, and “financial flexibility”. But the most recent league-wide cost-cutting proposal has drawn even larger outcry. The plan, in short, intends to cut MLB affiliations with 42 minor league organizations, including the complete dissolution of the Appalachian, Pioneer, and New York-Penn Leagues. Several teams would be cut free from MLB affiliation or shifted to different levels, including the Mariners’ Low-A affiliate from the South Atlantic League - the West Virginia Power.
MLB’s reasoning has some merit. They claim many minor league organizations have subpar conditions and facilities, leading to poor situations for players the MLB club has significant investment in. However, minor league baseball is often both the lone reasonable and/or affordable option for pro baseball attendance in much of the country. That fact has led to frustration from fans, employees, and others, who note that MiLB teams promote interest and access to the sport in the short and long-term, develop civic pride, and create thousands of jobs both seasonally and year round. If the issue is as player-minded as MLB claims, the upgrades could seemingly be funded by MLB clubs to existing situations. Considering the lengths MLB has gone to to ensure minor leaguers do not secure higher pay, it’s hard to believe the league is operating out of concern for more than their short-term bottom lines and greater ability to control all aspects of the sport.
For the Power, it’s a challenging situation. While Charleston, WV is the state capitol, its population hovers around just 50,000, though the larger metro area is closer to 200,000. The Power drew 118,444 attendees in 2019, putting them 12th of 14 teams in the South Atlantic League. Their 1,742 patrons per game nonetheless placed them at the lower end of the middle of the pack, well ahead of Kannapolis and Hagerstown, but the only other club averaging under 2,000 attendees a game. The Everett AquaSox, who might be bumped up to a full season league, drew 116,630 fans in 30 fewer games.
Yet it would be one thing if MLB’s proposal targeted teams struggling to draw attendees alone. The Lexington Legends, for instance, have averaged over 4,000 fans per game and held steady as one of the Sally League’s leaders in attendance for years, yet they stand to be chopped too. The entire Pioneer League saw attendance rise by 18%, yet it will have to fend for itself if Rob Manfred and this plan’s supporters get their way. The full list of teams that stand to be separated from MLB affiliation can be found here, in the New York Times.
It can also be viewed here, along with a fun detail about how the Astros constructed this arrangement, along with two teams led by former Astros assistant general managers:
These are the 42 minor league teams that would be contracted under MLB's realignment plan...— Kyle Lesniewski (@KyleL_Brewers) November 17, 2019
...which was reportedly developed by the Astros, Orioles, and our Brewers. pic.twitter.com/axCgGL5d8m
The deal will need to be negotiated between MLB and MiLB, but already has been approved unanimously by every MLB organization.