Major League Baseball has already come under the microscope for how its youngest prospects are paid and treated as they struggle through the minor leagues. The issue came to a head in the innocently-named "Save America’s Pastime Act," which allowed teams to pay their minor-leaguers less than minimum wage.
The good news is that MLB has plans to raise minor league salaries. The troubling part is how it plans to do so, per a report from Baseball America.
Major League Baseball and its sister organization, Minor League Baseball (MiLB), work together under the Professional Baseball Agreement, which expires at the end of the 2020 season. When the PBA comes up for renegotiation, it is usually little more than a formality but this time that is not the case. MLB is proposing to take direct control over various aspects of the minor leagues' organization that have been in control of MiLB for decades.
Major League Baseball's proposal calls for significant increases in player salaries -- upwards of 50 percent -- as well better standards for team facilities, equipment and transportation. The catch is that Minor League Baseball would be cut from its current 160 teams to 120 by the start of the 2021 season. Some of the teams and leagues remaining would be shuffled between the various levels, with some moving from Single-A to Triple-A and vice-versa. The quarter of minor league teams that would be cut would likely be from geographically-inconvenient areas to their MLB affiliates, as well as teams with inadequate facilities.
Perhaps the most contentious part of the negotiations is that MLB wants MiLB to foot part of the bill for the increased player salaries -- a tough deal for the teams, considering that small-town minor league baseball clubs in the lower levels of the game (Single-A and Rookie League, especially) struggle to survive as it is.
While MLB's intentions seem admirable, or at least not sinister on the surface, the idea of cutting out one-quarter of the minor league system has to hurt fans in those towns the most. "Bush league" baseball, as it's sometimes known, is a symbol of small town America. Depending on the town, the league, and the team, it can be the hottest attraction in town during the summer, and a great way to spend a summer night regardless of how well the team itself is doing. It would also mean fewer of those crazy promotions we all love.
Of course, it may be worth it in the end if the players get the bump in salary they've fought for. However, the loss of options for where to go may offset the good news. After all, for the players hanging on the fringes of the system, what good is a higher salary if there are fewer places to play?
Either way, both sides have until the start of the 2021 season to ratify the new Professional Baseball Agreement. Judging by how negotiations have turned, they may need all of that time.