For the first time in 30 years, Major League Baseball’s (MLB) contract with its minor leagues has expired without a new agreement in place. Those close to the negotiations did not expect a result by the Wednesday, Sept. 30 expiration date, as Minor League Baseball appears headed for one of the biggest transformations in its history. This could have major implications for the Binghamton Rumble Ponies, the Eastern League Double-A affiliate of the New York Mets.
Last fall, Baseball America reported that MLB leadership was looking to consolidate its power over the minor leagues, making several dramatic changes that have led to widespread criticism from MiLB and many of its franchises. MLB now intends to decrease the number of minor league franchises from about 160 to 120, with the Rumble Ponies among the teams on the chopping block.
The Brooklyn Cyclones, currently in the Class A Short Season New York-Penn League, would take over as the Mets’ Double-A affiliate. The New York-Penn League would be eliminated as a result of the changes.
If the proposal were to be passed, the changes would have taken effect following the conclusion of the 2020 MiLB season. However, the entire season was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic. Over the summer, the minor leagues have been in turmoil, with many franchises suffering significant financial losses and MLB making further advances to take over the minor leagues.
In addition, longtime MiLB commissioner Pat O’Conner, a critic of the contraction plan, announced that he will be retiring at the end of the year after running MiLB since 2007. This leaves the organization set to change leadership amid perhaps the most uncertain time in its history. He discussed the negotiations and the state of the minor leagues in an interview earlier this week with The Athletic’s Evan Drellich, ‘09.
“I think everybody involved would much rather have a deal than not have a deal,” O’Conner said. “And I’m not speaking for MLB, but my perception is obviously everybody would prefer to have a deal. We’re not going to have a deal in the next two weeks. But as long as there’s productive conversations going on, I don’t know that there’s anything magical about Sept. 30 other than, that’s the day the old agreement expires. So I think that there is a deal coming. And I think it’s too undeveloped, or there are still too many unknowns to qualitatively decide what kind of deal that’s going to be. They’re working.”
The original proposal called for the affected minor league teams to join together to form MLB-sponsored independent leagues, filled with undrafted players. The proposal was maligned by the owners as unfeasible, and many now believe the best course of action would be creating summer leagues for college baseball players.
On Tuesday, Sept. 29, the Appalachian League, formerly an affiliated advanced rookie league, announced it would be transitioning to a summer league for rising freshmen and sophomores playing college baseball. This represents the first change with many more to come. Without playing a single game in 2020, the minor leagues have now begun what will be the most tumultuous offseason in their history.