Major League Baseball is talking about a revolution.
Fed up with unproductive and an increasingly bitter public debate over their negotiations with Minor League Baseball over a new agreement, MLB raised the specter late Friday night of letting the leagues’ current deal expire next September and instead create a new minor-league system in alliance with independent and other baseball teams.
The threat came just hours after Minor League Baseball issued a four-page statement to “correct the public record” after MiLB absorbed criticism about its negotiating tactics from both commissioner Rob Manfred and deputy commissioner Dan Halem at the Winter Meetings in San Diego this week.
In a statement that began with MLB stating its belief that it is not “productive to engage in further public debate with the National Association over a successor Professional Baseball Agreement,” the 203-word statement took a more ominous turn midway through.
“If the National Association has an interest in an agreement with Major League Baseball, it must address the very significant issues with the current system at the bargaining table,” the statement read. “Otherwise, MLB Clubs will be free to affiliate with any minor league team or potential team in the United States, including independent league teams and cities which are not permitted to compete for an affiliate under the current agreement.”
The current system of having Major League Baseball grant player development contracts to Minor League Baseball teams has been in place since 1962. In 1990, there were contentious negotiations, but the PBA has remained roughly as it is until now.
MLB’s statement went on to say: “But whatever the outcome, MLB has assured every public official who has contacted us that MLB will work diligently to preserve organized baseball in a compelling, fan-friendly format in every American city that currently has an affiliate. MILB has not made such a commitment, and even now multiple teams are actively trying to leave their communities for better deals elsewhere.”
In stating its desire to stop the public spat with MiLB, MLB said: “We suggested several weeks ago that the parties agree to conduct their negotiations in private to minimize the public acrimony, but were told that the Minor League owners preferred to engage in a continued public debate with the obvious goal of preserving a heavily subsidized system that is very beneficial to them.”
During an interview with the Globe on Tuesday, Halem said MLB had been speaking with independent leagues and found them to be incredulous hearing of Minor League Baseball’s objections to Major League Baseball’s proposal to strip 42 teams of their affiliation and replace with an independent “Dream League” or college wood-bat type leagues that would be subsidized by MLB.
“They look at the minor league owners saying, ‘You’re killing baseball if the owners can’t pay for their players,’ and they’re saying, ‘That’s absolutely not true,’ they’re telling me, some of these teams, they’ll take them and they’ll make it work in their cities,” said Halem.
“They gave me lists of which ones they want. So it’s just a little disingenuous from the minor league side to say, ‘Baseball is leaving the cities.’ OK, maybe if we went through with this plan affiliated baseball may leave, but baseball will be there.
“All our fan polling, and we do a lot of fan polling, is fans in these minor league cities for the most part do not go to games because the affiliate happens to be affiliated with the Texas Rangers or the Blue Jays. They go because it’s low-cost entertainment.”