By Dave Ongie, News Editor
According to recent reports, a decision on the fate of the Appalachian League could be imminent.
Representatives from Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball sat down last Wednesday to negotiate a new Professional Baseball Agreement (PBA). The current agreement is set to expire on Sept. 15 of this year.
Baseball America reported last week that Minor League Baseball was set to agree to a demand from Major League Baseball that would result in the elimination of 42 minor league teams, including the entire Appalachian League. That concession would be a drastic departure from MiLB’s stance when the proposal was made last fall, but the economic situation has changed dramatically due to the COVID-19 outbreak, which has halted both Major League and Minor League baseball.
The two sides met last Wednesday, but did not announce a deal at that time. Minor League Baseball issued the following statement: “The respective negotiating teams of Minor League Baseball and Major League Baseball held a constructive meeting on Wednesday. The parties are continuing their discussions, with the goal of concluding a mutually beneficial long-term agreement in the near future.”
While there seems to be some question as to which 42 teams will ultimately be eliminated, Appalachian League teams are on shakier ground than most due to the agreement the league operates under. The teams do have MLB affiliations, but since they are all owned by independent operators, the MLB has the right to shut down the league with just six months notice regardless of the outcome of the PBA negotiations.
Major League Baseball’s motivation for proposing the elimination of minor league teams last fall was largely financial. Cutting back to 120 teams would allow major league franchises to eliminate about 1,600 players from their payrolls and shorten the annual MLB Draft. With big-league stadiums sitting empty for the foreseeable future and many employees furloughed, MLB’s desire to cut expenses has likely increased.
Likewise, Minor League Baseball is at a standstill after welcoming over 41 million fans to ballparks across America last summer. Faced with an uncertain future regarding large gatherings, MiLB may be more willing to acquiesce to MLB’s demand in exchange for the security that would come with a new, long-term PBA.
Boyd Sports, LLC currently operates three teams in the Appalachian League – the Johnson City Cardinals, Elizabethton Twins and Greeneville Reds. Last fall, MLB proposed a “Dream League” for undrafted players and summer wood bat leagues for college prospects to help fill the void for markets that lose their MLB-affiliated minor league team.
At the time, Jeremy Boler, vice-president of Boyd Sports, said he could not see a viable business model where any Appalachian League team could survive without a Major League team paying the players and coaches as they do under the current structure. There are minor league teams that play in independent leagues in larger markets, but the burden of a payroll ranging between $250,000 and $300,000 per season would be too heavy for the teams in our market to bear.
“None of our teams could financially support that,” Boler told the News & Neighbor last fall. “You’re one rainout away from not making the revenue you need to pay the players. That’s a high risk.”
Baseball America reported last week that both sides are looking for a way to keep baseball in the 42 markets in a system that “has long-term viability.” The date of the next negotiation session has not yet been announced.