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Report: Some minor league teams may fold with season being pushed back

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In November, we learned that Major League Baseball was proposing eliminating 42 teams as it continued to hash out a new Professional Baseball Agreement. The idea got immediate pushback, including from members of Congress. MLB may yet get its wish.

Both MLB and MiLB delayed the start of their regular seasons amid the COVID-19 pandemic. While MLB will lose money, it will be fine as it is a $10 billion industry. MiLB, on the other hand, might not be. Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper spoke to more than a dozen owners, GMs, and league presidents involved in minor league baseball. He wrote that there is a “near universal recognition” that some teams, estimated to be between 10 and 40, may end up folding as a result of the delayed start of the season.

While major league teams pay the salaries of their affiliated minor league players, the owners of the team are responsible for the other costs that come with running a baseball team. Peter Freund, the owner of the Memphis Redbirds (Cardinals Triple-A), said to Cooper, “The reality is it’s bad. We’re a small business. There are going to be some really hard decisions made in the next 30-60-90 days that are very uncomfortable. We are realistically looking at a situation where we may not operate this year. I can’t imagine a scenario where our season begins before June. What are the implications for all the people who work in the ballpark—the ushers, the grounds crews? It’s so upsetting. There is only so much we can do as a small business owner to keep the lights on. There are some very harsh realities.”

Like regular people, minor league teams have to worry about rent or mortgages and other expenses, all of which has become tougher with regular life grinding to a halt. And, like regular people, some minor league teams may go belly-up.

Freund said, “I’m never looking for a handout, but I think the government is a big piece of this. Our partners of MLB will have a hand in making sure that MiLB can survive. It’s somewhat ironic (considering the contentious PBA negotiations) but the reality is, we need our MLB partners. They are critical to our survival.”

Oakland Athletics reverse course, will continue to pay minor leaguers

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Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reports that Oakland Athletics owner John Fisher has reversed course and will continue to pay minor leaguers. Fisher tells Slusser, “I concluded I made a mistake.” He said he is also setting up an assistance fund for furloughed employees.

The A’s decided in late May to stop paying paying minor leaguers as of June 1, which was the earliest date on which any club could do so after an MLB-wide agreement to pay minor leaguers through May 31 expired. In the event, the A’s were the only team to stop paying the $400/week stipends to players before the end of June. Some teams, notable the Royals and Twins, promised to keep the payments up through August 31, which is when the minor league season would’ve ended. The Washington Nationals decided to lop off $100 of the stipends last week but, after a day’s worth of blowback from the media and fans, reversed course themselves.