The Professional Baseball Agreement expires today

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​What’s been in the news for well over a year now has finally come to pass: the Professional Baseball Agreement between Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball has come to an end. The two sides are still discussing a new deal — there is no impasse in a one-sided negotiation — and when it’s finally signed, it will bring massive change to the structure of the minors and the teams within it.

As things stand, MiLB is going to see roughly 40 teams disaffiliated. Those clubs and their owners will have the option of going independent, with MLB paying whatever fees are required for entry into an independent league, or becoming a wood bat team for college players. MLB is, of course, also partnering with independent leagues like the Atlantic, Frontier, and Pioneer, and while it’s unclear what exactly being a “partner” league means, we see how MLB treats its current partner, MiLB: by getting rid of the implied subservience and just straight-up taking away their autonomy and shrinking them.

On Tuesday, Baseball Prospectus published my piece on how all of this just kind of sucks. There is no opposition to what MLB is doing from anyone that could do anything about it. The Save Minor League Baseball task force still exists in Congress, but it was always an open question as to whether they’d be able to accomplish their goal: now, mid-pandemic, with all of the focus on the upcoming elections and the wildfires burning an entire coast and Black Lives Matter protests against police brutality and the constant pairing of professional white supremacists (the police) with amateur ones (the Proud Boys, etc.), baseball isn’t exactly high up on the list of things to pay attention to whether you’re in Congress or just at home hoping the horrible things stop piling up like this.

This isn’t me saying, by the way, that saving Minor League Baseball should take priority and your attention over what very much seems like part of a detailed chapter on America’s failing empire. Merely an explanation of where things stand right now for MiLB’s plight.

Minor League Baseball’s owners aren’t exactly worrying too much about opposing MLB, either. They’ve seemingly made their peace with it. As I wrote at BP:

Major League Baseball can turn independent leagues—which have the word independent in them, and that word is supposed to mean a very specific thing—into laboratories to test out different mound distances, pace of play initiatives, and robot umps. They can up and replace 40 Minor League Baseball teams while the United States government forms a task force to stop it, but in the end, can’t actually keep anything from happening because no one is willing to press the big “challenge the antitrust exemption” button that’s sitting right there, the one that might actually be able to put a stop to MLB’s relentless power grab. And hell, the Minor League Baseball owners don’t want that button pressed, either, because they still benefit from this antitrust arrangement, even if the state of their vassalage has changed with these PBA negotiations. At least they aren’t the serfs.

Sure, 40 of their buddies are getting kicked out of the club, but the other 120 owners are still here, even if MLB is muscling in to take over direct ownership of more teams and will now run the league’s office as well as their own. And those MiLB owners still here got a better deal than they just had, in some ways, since MLB will now be sharing licensing money with them, and the MiLB owners still don’t have to pay the players, who will still be receiving poverty-level wages even with the jump in pay for the 2021 season. Like I said: at least they aren’t the serfs.

Of course, as more MLB teams buy a more vested interest in their minor-league clubs, and the next PBA expires and the next wave of negotiations push out even more MiLB teams in MLB’s nonstop quest to discover the efficiency singularity, then what? Well, that’s a problem for next time. In the meantime, the owners still here are still getting theirs, and that apparently matters a lot more than putting up any kind of unified resistance to what MLB is doing, or having any kind of long-term thinking whatsoever.

It doesn’t help, though, that the outgoing president of Minor League Baseball made opposing MLB impossible. There were owners who were outraged at the idea of disaffiliation, even if their own team wasn’t one on the initial list. O’Conner worked closely with MLB to speed all of this along, though, keeping MiLB factionalized and unable to fight back until his own position was targeted by MLB: then, weirdly, he was opposed to MLB’s hostile takeover!

So, now there’s no O’Conner because there will be no position for him, anyway, after 2020, but the damage he helped bring into existence remains. Around 40 clubs will have to become independent — and probably still under the MLB umbrella in some capacity, depending on which league they end up in — while the others will switch to wood bat leagues with unpaid college players. These owners will still get to make money off of ticket sales, but the fans won’t get the same quality of experience, nor will they be watching players affiliated with a big-league team. Minor League Baseball will be smaller, and it will be worse, but the owners still around will still get paid. And that’s apparently enough for them, which is exactly what MLB was banking on when they began this process.

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