MLB announces creation of Draft League
The Pioneer League also becomes a partner league and the Appalachian League becomes a collegiate wood-bat league as the MiLB reorganization effort continues.
Major League Baseball announced on Monday the creation of the MLB Draft League. The league will feature five teams in four different states: Ohio Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and New Jersey. Teams will be comprised of prospects who are eligible for the MLB Draft, which will be held July 11-13, 2021.
The team names are: Mahoning Valley Scrappers, State College Spikes, Trenton Thunder, West Virginia Black Bears, and the Williamsport Crosscutters. If some of those names sound familiar, you’re right. The Scrappers, Black Bears, Spikes, and Crosscutters were short-season A-ball teams for the Indians, Pirates, Cardinals, and Phillies, respectively. The Thunder used to be the Yankees’ Double-A affiliate.
This is all part of MLB reorganizing the minor leagues as well as the independent baseball leagues. MLB also announced on Monday that the Pioneer League would become an independent “partner league,” joining the likes of the Atlantic League, American Association, and Frontier League. Additionally, MLB announced that the Appalachian League would become a collegiate wood-bat league.
Commissioner Rob Manfred’s vision is coming to fruition. Even before the pandemic, Manfred had been floating the idea of slashing over 25 percent of Minor League Baseball teams, mostly at the lower levels. Manfred, however, received considerable blowback when the idea went public. The pandemic gave him the perfect cover to go through with the scheme, which consolidated power in MLB’s hands.
Due to the 1922 Supreme Court Case Federal Baseball Club v. National League, MLB has been allowed to operate as a legal monopoly. While the other major North American sports have had competitor leagues pop up from time to time (like the XFL), the same can’t be said of Major League Baseball. It has never had a legitimate contender.
Why slash the minors? The players were starting to gain momentum towards earning fair pay. Former minor leaguer and current attorney Garrett Broshuis was part of a group filing a class-action lawsuit against MLB in 2014, alleging the league underpaid them. Aaron Senne was specifically named in the lawsuit. The lawsuit is still ongoing. In fact, the Supreme Court last month denied MLB’s request to dismiss the lawsuit.
As the case continued to be reported on, gaining some allies in the media in the process, public sentiment began to turn in favor of the players who, by and large, make under $10,000 per minor league season. Past and present minor leaguers finally had platforms with which to tell their stories. Some slept in overcrowded one-bedroom apartments. Some slept in their cars, many subsisted on fast food and PB&J sandwiches. The public began to learn how systematically these athletes were being exploited. For instance, the players aren’t paid during spring training, where attendance is mandatory. They also aren’t paid for the time they spend studying film or sculpting their bodies in the weight room both during the season and during the offseason.
According to OpenSecrets.com, MLB increased spending on lobbying in Washington, D.C. from about $340,000 in 2015 to about $1.35 million in 2016 and ’17. The lobbying paid off. In 2018, the “Save America’s Pastime Act,” included in a $1.3 trillion spending bill, was passed by the House, then the Senate, and finally by President Trump.
The bill amended language in the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, classifying minor league players as seasonal workers, thus not entitled to worker protections like overtime pay and a minimum wage. Specifically, the bill exempts “any employee employed to play baseball who is compensated pursuant to a contract that provides for a weekly salary for services performed during the league’s championship season (but not spring training or the offseason) at a rate that is not less than a weekly salary equal to the minimum wage … for a workweek of 40 hours, irrespective of the number of hours the employee devotes to baseball related activities.”
With this legislation, MLB ran an end-around on the class-action lawsuit. While it didn’t drive the final nail in the coffin, it was a significant setback. Broshuis said, “Instead of going through the regular committee process where it has a hearing, all of this was done in secret and in a very rushed manner. It’s emblematic of how things are getting done in Washington these days, where the people with a lot of money are able to flex their political muscle and make a lot of contributions and get things done in secret that benefit only them.”
Along with the lawsuit, MLB had been facing mounting pressure to pay minor leaguers fairly. In 2019, the Blue Jays became the first team to willingly raise the salaries of their minor leaguers, by more than 50 percent. MLB teams are responsible for paying the salaries of their minor leaguers. I did some very rough math on this in 2018, estimating it would cost teams between $4-5 million to guarantee their minor leaguers a $30,000 salary, which is still an unfair amount but a marked improvement (and much more than a 50% raise).
Shrinking the minor leagues allows Manfred to increase pay to the players, getting all of the positive press that comes with that, without actually shelling out any more money. There are roughly 25% fewer jobs in Minor League Baseball now than there were in 2019. MLB announced in February earlier this year that players at rookie and short-season ball would see weekly pay raised from $290 to $400. Class-A pay would jump from $290 to $500; Double-A from $350 to $600; Triple-A from $502 to $700. That’s all being funded by the players who lost their jobs amid the massive reorganization of Minor League Baseball. If you’ve ever doubted the necessity of labor unions, Minor League Baseball is a tremendous example of their importance — the players don’t have union protection like Major League Baseball players.
Phillies Stumping for Abreu
The 2021 Baseball Hall of Fame ballot was unveiled two weeks ago. At the time, I went over all of the players on the ballot. Of note, I included former Phillies outfielder Bobby Abreu on my hypothetical ballot, arguing that he was a perennially underrated player who put up better numbers than you think.
The Phillies joined the campaign, stumping for Abreu. On Monday, the team published an article on MLB.com laying out various statistics painting Abreu in a good light. They also compared Abreu to various Hall of Famers, including Andre Dawson, Vladimir Guerrero, Tony Gwynn, Reggie Jackson, Larry Walker, and Dave Winfield.
It’s a really good article, mostly. The mostly comes at the end when the unnamed author (or authors) mistakenly compare Abreu to current Angels outfielder Mike Trout, using a selection of the players’ eight best consecutive seasons. Trout, as you likely know, is indisputably the greatest player of this generation and is well on his way to becoming one of the greatest players of all-time. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a bigger supporter of Abreu’s Hall candidacy than me, but even I think a comparison to Trout is ludicrous.
Even worse, the comparison doesn’t paint Abreu in the light the author(s) think it does. Owing largely to the fact that he had about 400 more plate appearances in his eight-season selection, Abreu leads in some counting stats. But Trout crushes him in rate stats, particularly slugging percentage (.587 to .514), wRC+ (175 to 140), and OPS+ (178 to 139). If one were to rank the most important stats the Phillies used in their article, it would start wRC+, OPS+, OBP, SLG, and then the counting stats.
It was a valiant effort, Phillies, but the execution wasn’t great.
A few players changed – or, more accurately, will soon be changing – their addresses:
The Royals signed outfielder Michael Taylor to a one-year, $1.75 million deal. He can earn an additional $1 million through performance incentives.
The Royals also signed pitcher Mike Minor to a two-year deal. The contract amount is not yet known.
The Marlins acquired pitcher Adam Cimber from the Indians in exchange for cash considerations. Pitcher José Ureña was designated for assignment to make room on the 40-man roster.
Pitcher Robbie Erlin signed with the Nippon Ham Fighters of the Japan Pacific League, per The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal.