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MLB’s dramatic MiLB realignment would radically alter the Mets’ minor league system

Major League Baseball’s plan will eliminate the minor league team closest to baseball’s symbolic heart.

Seattle Mariners v Los Angeles Dodgers
When a small town thinks they should have a baseball team
Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

In October, news broke of a dramatic plan from MLB to overhaul the minor leagues. Among the proposed changes at the time, the most noteworthy were:

  • Cutting affiliation ties with 42 current MiLB clubs.
  • Move the amateur draft back to August, after the College World Series concluded, and cut the draft to 20-25 rounds.
  • Doing away with short-season ball, sending all new draftees to the team’s spring training complex and not assigning them an affiliate until the following season. (This is common practice with international amateur signees, as player contract years - and Rule-5 eligibility -do not start counting until they are officially assigned to a minor league level, so it would squeeze an extra year of contract control out of draftees for teams.)
  • Reorganizing all remaining affiliated MiLB teams to be full season teams, with more streamlined geographic proximity to their parent organizations.
  • Among other changes, the AAA-Pacific Coast League would shrink from 16 to 10 teams, while the AAA-International League would grow to 20. The Short Season-A Northwest League would become a full season league, while the Appalachian, Pioneer, and New York-Penn League would be dissolved entirely.
  • Establishing a “Dream League” as a joint MLB-MiLB venture (seemingly a la the G League for the NBA or the AHL/WHL for the NHL), potentially comprised of some of the 42 cast-off affiliates, for undrafted free agents to play for the rest of the summer to attempt to draw interest, sign affiliated contracts, and continue providing baseball through former affiliates.

This plan was reportedly designed under the recommendation of Astros GM Jeff Luhnow, and overseen by the Astros, as well as the Orioles and Brewers, both headed by former Astros front office executives. It was unanimously approved by all 30 teams, ahead of MLB’s negotiations with MiLB on their Player Development Contract following the 2020 season. MLB claims the plan is a necessity due to subpar facilities and conditions at many minor league affiliates. Critics have noted MLB is entirely able to control those conditions as they are in control of the funding they put towards their affiliates, as well as the salaries they provide their minor league players. Moreover, there is significant concern about the ramifications of this move on the health of the sport. There would be thousands of seasonal and full-time jobs lost as a result of the shuttering of most of the teams, as well as a significant reduction in access to affordable professional baseball in many areas of the country.

The full list of teams on the chopping block can be found here, via the New York Times, and is also listed below:

Three Mets affiliates stand to be directly affected. The Double-A Binghamton Rumble Ponies of the Eastern League and the rookie ball Kingsport Mets of the Appalachian League would have their MLB affiliation severed. With the cessation of Short Season and non-complex-based Rookie ball, Kingsport and the entire Appalachian League would be cut loose. Most new draftees would head to a team’s complex, where they would participate only in simulated games and training, before officially beginning their contracts the following season and joining a full-season affiliate.

The loss of Binghamton would lead to greater ramifications. Bingo has long been maligned for bad attendance, though particularly poor weather led to just 61 of 68 expected home games being played, making for especially unimpressive attendance that left them last in the Eastern League. In a story all-too-common around MiLB towns, shrinking population and income opportunities have had negative impacts on many aspects of life, including baseball attendance. Still, the Mets have been affiliated with Binghamton since 1992, and the partnership has been long-lasting due to geographic sensibility and rapport. It’s not as though the cuts are being made along pure fan interest lines, either, as several of the clubs at risk of decommissioning have posted growing and/or strong patronage for years. Without MLB affiliation, it would be extremely challenging to see Binghamton continue to sustain a club, though it could perhaps hope to join onto the independent Atlantic League.

The Brooklyn Cyclones would be one of a few clubs to survive the culling of the New York-Penn league, though with Short Season eradicated their role would be unclear. Perhaps they would slot in directly as Binghamton’s replacement in Double-A, jumping straight to the Eastern League—or its successor. Brooklyn’s location unsurprisingly has helped it lead the NYP League in attendance every season of their existence, making them well-suited for a higher level of play. While that was no doubt valuable, it was clearly not the only consideration once again, as over half the New York-Penn League’s teams stand to be eliminated. The Auburn Doubledays, Batavia Muckdogs, Connecticut Tigers, Lowell Spinners, Mahoning Valley Scrappers, Stage College Spikes, Staten Island Yankees, Vermont Lake Monsters, and Williamsport Crosscutters would be untethered from MLB, left to either fend for themselves, attempt to sustain through existing independent leagues, and/or join into the “Dream League”. If MLB’s plan comes to fruition, Brooklyn would be the only affiliated minor league club in New York City.