As pro baseball leagues scramble to put together contingency plans should games actually get played this year, the landscape of the sport’s minor leagues could completely change in 2021.
Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball (MiLB) have been engaged in talks for some time to replace the Professional Baseball Agreement — the deal that provides coaches and players to MLB affiliate clubs in the minors. That deal is set to expire after the 2020 season.
The coronavirus pandemic has reportedly weakened the MiLB’s ability to negotiate and likely means the organization may have to accept the potential MLB proposal that would cut the number of affiliated minor league clubs from 160 to 120.
While the details of which clubs would be cut and which affiliates would be assigned to which MLB teams is far from decided, one thing is clear. The ripple effect of this move could have major implications across the sport, including for nonaffiliated leagues such as the Atlantic League, which is home to the York Revolution.
In November, it was reported that of the minor league teams to be cut, just four would be Double-A clubs, while the rest would be lower-level teams that usually are filled by young players who have recently been drafted or signed their first pro contracts.
With 40 fewer teams for those players to go to, it would seem obvious that an organization such as the Atlantic League would try to acquire some of the players that become casualties of consolidation, but that doesn’t seem likely.
Atlantic League president Rick White reiterated that, although there could be a number of talented younger players available because of club elimination, his league is more focused on players with experience in Double-A and Triple-A ball, as well as the major leagues.
“I don’t think the focus of our players is going to materially change,” White said in a phone interview last week. “We tend to attract an older, more mature player. One who has more fully developed in terms of not only skill set, but in terms of physical maturity. Usually players are coming to us because they are actively interested in either a return to MLB, the chance to get to MLB or taking the next step in their career.”
Business as usual: White said that roughly 75% of players on Atlantic League rosters have spent time in MLB or Triple-A. He added that on average, 60% of players on opening-day rosters in the league have MLB service time.
One of the players that York Revolution president Eric Menzer used as an example of the type of player the league looks for is new Revs signee Brendon Sanger, who grew up in York County. After being drafted by the Los Angeles Angels in 2015, Sanger reached Double-A before getting released and signed with the Revs in an effort to renew his chances at making an MLB roster.
“That is the perfect example of what the Atlantic League exists for,” Menzer said in a phone interview last week. “When people ask me why players are in the Atlantic League, that’s a perfect example. Our position is that we have historically built this league on being an opportunity for (veteran) players. Twenty-six and 27 year olds who are hitting .240 in Double-A are exactly the player the Atlantic League is built for.”
Possibly adding clubs: While neither White nor Menzer anticipated that the Atlantic League’s approach to acquiring talent would change, White acknowledged that there could be room for the organization to add some of the clubs that are cut from affiliated baseball.
The Atlantic League currently has teams in seven cities in six states and one league-operated traveling team (the Road Warriors). The league lost a franchise in New Britain, Connecticut, after the 2019 season, but was scheduled to add another club in Gastonia, North Carolina, for the 2021 campaign.
That would make two teams in North Carolina for the Atlantic League. While he wouldn’t get into specifics about which regional clubs could be cut as part of the MLB-MiLB agreement, White has paid close attention to the negotiations.
“We are mindful of those teams scheduled for contraction,” White said. “And we are quite mindful of those communities that fall within our existing footprint.”
Two Pennsylvania teams that have been mentioned as possibilities for elimination are the Williamsport Crosscutters and the State College Spikes. Both of those teams are members of the Single-A New York-Penn League.
The Atlantic League already has two Pennsylvania teams in York and Lancaster.
Reach Rob Rose at email@example.com.