MLB is trying to shrink the minors again

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We hadn’t heard a peep about the nature of the minor-league collective bargaining between Major League Baseball and the Players Association despite it going on for months now, but we finally got a tiny morsel to reflect on. Tony Clark spoke on various matters around the league, which Evan Drellich published at The Athletic, and it’s all worth looking at. The newest info in there, though, pertains to the ongoing bargaining, and an ask MLB is making that the union isn’t about to budge on:

Bargaining between MLB and the MLBPA to create the first CBA for minor-league players has been going on since November. Clark indicated there’s been progress overall, but pointed to one MLB proposal that he considers a “non-starter.”

“One of the quid pro quos that’s on the table is that in order to make improvements, the other side must have the capability of cutting jobs and or additional teams down the road,” Clark said. “That’s not why a union gets formed. The exact opposite is true. And so I’m encouraged by many of the conversations that have happened so far. I remain optimistic that common ground can be found on most of the issues that remain. But the idea of the league having the ability to cut minor-league jobs and/or contraction, contracting teams further — on the heels of the 40-plus teams that were contracted a couple years ago — is troublesome.”

As Drellich noted, MLB asked during big-league bargaining about the ability to shrink minor-league roster sizes going forward, which was rejected: since there was no minor-league representation by the PA back then, it was a subject of bargaining with the MLB CBA. Now, though, the structure of MiLB’s rosters and league size has to be determined by bargaining in the minor-league CBA, so MLB is taking the opportunity to try to shrink things once again.

Hey, let’s rewind to a year ago, last March, when MLB leaked that — in reaction to losing Senne v. MLB — they would look to further shrink the minors in the future:

I do not doubt [Maury] Brown’s reporting or his sources on this, but I do want to point something out: this lawsuit — as well as whatever future lawsuits spring forth from it, and whatever increased day-to-day, season-to-season costs putting on a Minor League Baseball season the league sees as the fallout from Senne v. MLB — are surely to be blamed for the next wave of disaffiliated clubs. That’s all it would be, though, is an excuse, because the fear that MLB was going to shut down more minor-league clubs when the current agreement put into place just last year expires is not a new one. In fact, it was an ongoing concern even before the dozens of teams were disaffiliated here.

MiLB players are seemingly starting to organize a bit, too, which could be another deterrent. If a minor-league union eventually emerges from the kind of organizing that groups like Advocates for Minor Leaguers are doing, they could step in to challenge MLB’s ability to disaffiliate clubs like they did in 2021. Good luck finding enough replacement players to fill minor-league rosters if all the minor leaguers go on strike in response to you threatening to get rid of another 1,000 of their jobs, or if it ends up being a subject of bargaining, meaning, MLB could not just unilaterally make this move without the approval of a Minor League union.

Hey look, the players did organize in the months that followed, and more than a bit, too. And now MLB has to go through them to bargain this instead of MLB’s players, as it can’t be used against big leaguers to try to entice them into something they want now that the minors are in their rearview. As has been said a whole bunch in the last decade-plus, the PA has given up concessions that impact non-major league players in the past, so the threat is always seemingly there, though this particular iteration of the union seems better prepared to reject such temptations for short-term gain, and now there’s a minor-league sub-unit that can bargain for themselves and make sure they aren’t forgotten about, too. Nicely done all around, and good to see the union isn’t interested in sacrificing future jobs for improved conditions now.

And as I wrote at the time, saying that MLB would shrink the minors in response to losing a class action lawsuit was simply the thing to say in that moment because it was news they could try to tie it to: they threatened to shrink the minors again even before they shrunk them the first time, saying 40 disaffiliated clubs was just the start, and claimed it was necessary in order to improve the players’ pay and living conditions. Now they’re saying in order to improve things further they need to cut even more? The reason they say doesn’t matter: they want to cut because it means this will all cost them less. Which is absurd to worry about considering the calculations I’ve mentioned a dozen times here and elsewhere in the past few years: to pay every minor leaguer $50,000 (or the prorated form of it for non-full-season players) per year and provide them housing would cost each MLB club about $6 million each season. Given how much revenue is eventually produced thanks to minor-league players honing their craft and making it to the majors where the real money is, $6 million is nothing. MLB is going to keep acting like it’s something, though, because lying about how much money is available and what spending it will do to them is their base state.

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