The Minor Leagues are a hot mess. That’s no secret. Player pay is abysmal, working conditions are draconian, and far too many players with real potential are forced by financial circumstances to leave their dreams behind in favor of the more lofty monetary gains one can achieve by working construction or driving for Uber.
Now faced with a class-action lawsuit arguing that players are owed payment for spring training and extended spring training, MLB is finding itself in a position to make some changes.
Baseball America’s article on the proposed MLB Professional Baseball Agreement is out and free to read, and it discusses those changes in detail.
Of course, as in all things, the changes will be to the benefit, mainly, of the collective MLB ownership to the detriment of probably everyone else. Definitely to the people who can least afford it: The teenaged baseball-playing hopefuls who will suddenly find themselves competing for fewer draft positions in a smaller MiLB system.
The proposed changes would cut the draft down to 20-25 rounds, limit each MLB team to five minor league affiliates (the Yankees have eight currently), do away with 42 teams entirely, reclassify many others, and create what they’re calling a “Dream League”, which will not be beholden to offer the wages or resources the MiLB system is being upgraded to.
These are the things everyone is going to focus on, and they should. This is a huge change and it will be mostly terrible for nearly everyone involved.
However, there are some subtler points that stand out to me: the fact that the new contract would be for five years instead of seven. The fact that the Dream League would not be the “minor leagues” but will still be under the auspices of MLB. This is going to be done *specifically* to circumvent paying lower-level minor leaguers the living wage they are asking for.
To my conspiracy-theory ready eyes, the ultimate goal appears to be to separate player development from MLB’s list of financial responsibilities.
It would be a death by a thousand cuts:
MLB restructures MiLB by removing some teams and reclassifying others.
Higher level teams being worth less than lower level teams, MLB is offering to “buy out” the difference in value as they see it.
With fewer contracts available and a shorter term on each, owning an MiLB team becomes a considerably more volatile investment.
And there is, of course, nothing to say that when all those new contracts are up in 5 years that MLB won’t reduce the number of available contracts further.
Could Dream League be a testing ground for a fully privatized player scouting and development system outside of MiLB, where MLB can throw “subsidies” to help with player development costs, without holding any responsibility to the players themselves?
I want to believe it’s not.
But I’m not sure that I can.