Minor League Baseball issued a stern warning a week ago to all 160 of its teams, reminding those fearful of contraction not to start seeking new affiliation deals with major league cubs, according to a memo obtained by the Globe.
The May 21 memo, sent by MiLB president and CEO Pat O’Conner, had the subject line, “Unauthorized/Improper Negotiations,” and referenced recent articles in Baseball America and Sports Illustrated.
O’Conner said the “articles prompt me to remind all MiLB Clubs that the National Association Agreement (‘NAA’) and the Major League Rules forbid any club or club official from negotiating agreements in conflict with our governing agreements.”
Clubs who disobey face “serious penalties,” said O’Conner, who included in the memo a section of the NAA on penalties, which include forfeiture of league affiliation and “all rights and privileges conferred by this Agreement.”
“Negotiations with another organization while under contract with another organization is against MiLB rules,” said MiLB spokesman Jeff Lantz. “Teams that are caught are subject to substantial fines and penalties.”
O’Conner also reminded clubs in his memo they could become subject to legal claims from other minor league teams who could be damaged by behind-the-scene dealings.
The behavior O’Conner warned against relates directly to the MLB-MiLB negotiations over a new operating agreement.
According to the Baseball America report, multiple officials and owners described the current MiLB atmosphere as like the “Wild West.”
The prevailing thinking among MiLB teams is that the fight to preserve all 160 teams has been lost and that contraction to 120 is inevitable. Talks have reached a point where MLB is polling its 30 clubs to get a final list of which four affiliates they wish to keep.
Minor league owners who believe they are on the contraction list are, in the words of one industry insider, “now in panic mode.”
Some of those owners, according to Baseball America, have reached out to MLB teams they are not affiliated with to gauge interest about becoming a new affiliate. One concern MiLB has is that the minor league teams are offering MLB clubs significant future equity stakes in their teams at a discount.
The survival game of musical chairs is being played at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has wiped out nearly two months of revenue and put the entire 2020 minor league season at serious risk of being scrapped.
Any new minor league setup will likely mean changes in location for affiliates so that big-league clubs can have their teams closer geographically.
The reorganization also will likely include teams moving up or down among the Triple A, Double A, and Single A levels and shifting leagues.
MLB is not expected to finalize a decision about the 2020 minor league season until it resolves the fate of the major league season. That decision is pending resolution of negotiations with the MLB Players’ Association, which look as if they will extend into early June.
Once a resolution is reached, MLB can reengage with MiLB on negotiations, which were last held April 22.
With no games played yet in 2020, teams have essentially been without revenue since last September outside of any season-ticket or individual-game purchases in the offseason.