The nearly 25-year affiliation between the Lowell Spinners and the Red Sox would end under a radical reorganization proposal from Major League Baseball which leaked Friday, one that would shrink the number of affiliated minor league teams by 25 percent.
Short-season leagues, including the New York-Penn League in which Lowell plays, would be disbanded under the plan, which would eliminate 42 affiliated teams in total. Because MLB views Lowell and the Spinners’ home, Edward A. LeLacheur Park, as “good,” the franchise would continue to exist in the “Dream League,” an MLB concept in line with independent or college leagues.
Also dropping to the Dream League would be the two other New England teams in the NYPL: The Vermont Lake Monsters, affiliated with Oakland since 2011 and playing at 113-year-old Centennial Field in Burlington since the franchise formed in 1994, and the (Norwich) Connecticut Tigers.
The overhaul, first reported by Baseball America and the New York Times, has emerged from ongoing and now contentious negotiations between MLB and Minor League Baseball over their Professional Baseball Agreement, which will expire on Sept. 30, 2020.
MLB says the primary motivations for the changes, which emerged from the MLB owners’ meetings in June and were presented to MiLB in August, are to ensure its young players play in quality facilities — rather than some of the current dilapidated stadiums, mostly found in the lower leagues — and to create a saner geographic layout for both leagues and MLB franchises.
The cuts would serve to motivate MLB to increase the currently meager salaries it pays minor leaguers, an increasingly plaguing issue.
Minor League Baseball does not accept the premise and the impetus for the proposals.
“We are engaged in negotiations, and while both sides have differing views over what’s going on, we hope that there’s a resolution available, but we are concerned about saving baseball in as many cities in America as we can, and the proposal that’s on the table at this point doesn’t give us any comfort that that’s even possible,” said Pat O’Conner, president and CEO of Minor League Baseball, which oversees the current 16-league, 160-team system. “It’s the economics. These ownership groups in these communities are just not going to be able to withstand the additional costs the MLB proposal puts on them.”
Through other channels, MiLB castigated MLB for seeking cuts after boasting recently about increased minor-league attendance in the face of decreases in the major leagues. In addition, MiLB intimated that the plan could create a feeling of betrayal among members of the US Congress who, besides holding antitrust authority over MLB, are also invested in maintaining baseball’s prosperity at all levels.
Dave Heller, owner of the Lowell Spinners and three other affiliated teams, was not immediately available for comment. The Red Sox referred the matter to MLB for elaboration; MLB declined to comment.
The “120 plan” wants to reduce the total number of teams from 160 to 120 and eliminate short-season leagues. It also addresses geographical gerrymandering in places like the Triple A Pacific Coast League, whose 16 teams are spread out from Nashville and Memphis in Tennessee to Tacoma, Wash., and Sacramento, Calif.
Each big-league franchise would be limited to four US based full-season franchises, plus one complex-based Rookie-league team.
No other teams in the Red Sox system — Pawtucket/Worcester (Triple A), Portland, Maine (Double A); Salem, Va. (High A); Greenville, S.C. (Single A); and its Gulf Coast squad (Rookie) in Fort Myers, Fla. — would be eliminated or moved out of their league, although there is a high probability that the Single A Carolina and South Atlantic Leagues will be rejiggered and/or drastically reduced.
The “120 plan” calls for a cap on total players under minor-league contract, somewhere between 150–200 per franchise, according to an industry source. (Dominican Summer League teams and roster sizes would not be affected.) Including Lowell, the Red Sox have space for 190 minor-league contracts in their system.
Roster sizes of teams would also be altered. With an emphasis on health and wellness for its players closest to being called up, MLB wants to increase the roster size in Double and Triple A up from 25, which would allow for more player off days, the ability to carry an additional catcher, reduce workloads on pitchers, and effectively create a more serviceable taxi squad.
Also, the “120 plan” seeks to push back the date of the amateur draft from early June to later in the month, after the conclusion of the College World Series.