While changes are expected to be part of a new Professional Baseball Agreement, operators of Midwest League teams in the Quad-Cities and Clinton see minor-league baseball continuing well into the future in both communities.
The current agreement, the contract which binds the governing bodies of major- and minor-league baseball, expires following the 2020 season and the start of the negotiation process has unveiled the potential for a radical change in the landscape of the game at the minor-league level.
An initial proposal from Major League Baseball that was revealed Friday by Baseball America would reshape how talent is developed by major-league organizations, reducing minor-league operations from 160 to 120 teams across the country beginning in 2021.
The reduction would alter when baseball holds its annual draft and would subsequently reduce the number of players major-league organizations would have to pay as part of their developmental process.
The proposal would accomplish the reductions mainly through the elimination of short-season leagues, although geographic realignment sought by the major leagues could impact some full-season operations.
That’s where Midwest League clubs such as the River Bandits and LumberKings have the potential to become involved although there is no reference to any full-season clubs in the initial proposal.
“This is the start of a negotiating process, the start of what are going to be very long negotiations,’’ Clinton general manager Ted Tornow said. “What is out there now is merely a starting point from one side.’’
Quad-Cities owner Dave Heller, whose Main Street Baseball properties include a short-season operation in Billings, Montana, joins Tornow in believing that minor-league baseball will continue as it has for two of the Midwest League’s oldest franchises.
“We are looking forward to the Quad-Cities being part of affiliated baseball for many, many years to come,’’ Heller said. “I don’t see that changing.’’
Parts of the proposal being put on the negotiating table by Major League Baseball now mirror those discussed in 1990, the last time there was a major overhaul of the Professional Baseball Agreement.
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Tornow was working at the time for the Memphis Chicks, then a Double-A affiliate of the Kansas City Royals.
“At the end of the day, everything worked out and just as it did 29 years ago, I believe that will be the case again,’’ Tornow said.
In 1990, facility standards were created and minor-league clubs ended up picking up the cost of jerseys, paying for additional hotel rooms for teams on road trips and a percentage of the cost of bats and balls. Fans attending minor-league games also began seeing a percentage of the cost of the tickets they purchased forwarded to the majors.
There have been changes to the Professional Baseball Agreement in the years since, the biggest seeing the cost of umpires including salaries, transportation and benefits in that development process shifted from the majors to the list of expenses covered by minor-league clubs.
The facility standards have generally remained unchanged since 1990 and that area, along with others, will all be on the table again as the current round of negotiations begins in earnest in November.
The availability of stadium-based training and nutrition facilities are expected to be among items on the table for discussion.
In its report, Baseball America indicated that Major League Baseball wants the new Professional Baseball Agreement to include changes in the Player Development Contract process, the two- and four-year contracts between minor-league clubs and their major-league affiliates.
They reportedly want improved geographic arrangements — something that could lead to a reorganization of leagues — and longer-term deals that would reduce negotiating options for minor-league clubs. They want minor-league teams to share in costs that will be associated with improved pay for minor-league players under contract with major-league teams.
Heller does not see the classification of the Quad-Cities franchise changing beyond its current Class A status.
He joins Tornow in saying the current negotiations will likely take significant time but will have no impact on the 2020 season.
“It will be baseball as usual next year,’’ Tornow said. “When fans ask, the response is that nothing has changed. We’re getting ready for a good 2020 season.’’