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MLB-MiLB talks could mean end of Appy League as we know it

Tanner Cook • Apr 21, 2020 at 6:00 PM

A new deal between Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball could be coming soon, and if Tuesday’s reports are true, it could be bad news for the Appalachian League.

Baseball America reported that officials from MLB and MiLB are expected to meet Wednesday via teleconference to discuss a new Professional Baseball Agreement (PBA). According to Baseball America Executive Director J.J. Cooper, sources close to the situation believe MiLB will agree to having 120 affiliated teams. That would mean as many as 42 current minor league teams would be pared by eliminating short-season and rookie-ball teams.

If that plan were to be adopted, it would drastically change the Appalachian League, which would no longer be fielding teams with players drafted and signed by major league teams.

The current PBA ends after the 2020 season.

Representatives for the Kingsport Mets, Johnson City Cardinals and Elizabethton Twins declined to comment on the report Tuesday.

Part of the agreement between MLB and MiLB could be a system in which each major league team has four full-season minor league affiliates plus a rookie-level team in Florida.

The National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues (NAPBL), better known as Minor League Baseball and the minors’ governing body, released a statement in which it called the reports on the negotiations “largely inaccurate.”

“There have been no agreements on contraction or any other issues,” the statement says. “MiLB looks forward to continuing the good faith negotiations with MLB tomorrow as we work toward an agreement that best ensures the future of professional baseball throughout the United States and Canada.”

The sides reportedly are working on a deal that would ensure the majority of the 42 targeted markets still would have baseball with ties to MLB, even if those cities’ teams will not be fielding draftees and signees from a major league club. The Associated Press reported that instead of franchise affiliations, there would be licensing agreements similar to those of hotel chains.

The NAPBL had lobbied Congress against the contraction plan, but according to The AP, the coronavirus pandemic changed the dynamic and sapped minor league teams of revenue and willingness to fight. Some teams have been forced to cut expenses with layoffs and furloughs.

Last year, MLB proposed a plan to create a “Dream League” for undrafted players or a summer wooden-bat league for college prospects that would replace teams in cities that had their teams stripped away. MiLB countered by saying such leagues would not be financially sustainable.

Opening day in the majors has been pushed back indefinitely from its original March 26 date. The commissioner’s office and players’ association have discussed the possibility of playing in empty ballparks as well as the prospect of all 30 teams playing the regular season at spring training sites in Arizona.

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