2-15-22 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter
Rob Manfred has had a couple very thematic goals since becoming commissioner of Major League Baseball. First, to find a way to improve the pace of play in the game, and second, to reduce the size and scope of baseball’s development system.
Yesterday Jeff Passan from ESPN reported that the latest proposal from MLB to the MLBPA included a provision that would allow MLB to lower the number of players on the Reserve list from 180 to as low as 150. Terrific piece by Jeff here, do check it out.
As Jeff illustrates in his piece, it was just December 2020 when MLB contracted MiLB, cutting 42 teams from affiliation and trimming to the current reserve list number.
Way back when, I can tell you I went ape. Went and created maps of the country’s affiliates before and after and using my at the time tiny voice to make sure Manfred got his.
Well, here’s the thing, it didn’t turn out that bad. Just about every town that lost their affiliate status landed firmly on their feet. They wound up hosting MLB sanctioned independent ball and college prospect league action and while I still had the initial gut reaction that this is wrong, I can’t forget how I missed on this one last time.
It may not be as much fun as visceral anger, but you’ll have to stick with me as this time I’m going to approach it much more carefully.
The first thing to note is at least for the time being, this won’t reduce the number of minor league affiliates as each of the 120 affiliate clubs have signed for 10 years. This would likely only limit the FCL complex league which really winds up being more instructional in nature anyway.
It should also be added that the 180 MLB moved to in the last contraction was more than they wanted, but deemed necessary with the lost season in 2020. Even this request wouldn’t be enacted before 2023 and MLB is seeking the right to raise or lower the number.
If I have any reservations here, it’s really that they just contracted, so I’d rather see what that looks like over a number of years before doubling down but I have to admit, I think I’m kinda ok with this.
Part of me thinks this can improve the level of competition at each stop, and that can only help development, and even if I’m wrong, it’ll simply be asking MLB clubs to use a slightly bigger sifting mesh when panning for gold. Players who fall through the cracks will of course crop up but for the most part, I think we’re going to just simplify the road to the show a bit.
Think about it for a minute, we often see a really good performance in Low A and what’s the first thing you say? Go ahead and answer that for yourself, I’ll answer it for me like this, man they probably should have started him in High A.
Then it’s about not trusting the numbers he just put up because it was against inferior talent. Well, maybe contracting this farther will tighten some of that up. Maybe professional baseball should have a higher low water mark in the first place.
I hear the argument that it’s killing the dream for guys, but in reality, it’s just changing the opportunity. Instead of being tied to a team the player gets to decide for themselves that they want to bet on their talent and go to independent ball. It should also be noted this is being suggested with a permanent reduction in the number of rounds in the MLB entry draft to 20. This is a key portion of the proposal that the players and league have already agreed upon.
That means less players drafted in the first place. When players aren’t drafted they can enter the free agent pool or catch on with independent clubs so again, the dream is still alive. I saw a couple people toss out Matthew Fraizer as an example of the type of player who could get chopped had this been enacted back when he struggled in his debut season. Folks, that’s just poppycock. He was a third round pick, and injured on top of that to have a disappointing season to begin with. No, you’re talking about instead, as Craig put it to me when we were discussing this subject, that 3rd catcher on the Low A club who’s hitting .190.
I’ve also seen some worry openly that teams like the Pirates, which we should probably note if these sides were discussing the right stuff would be a statement of the past itself, who like to stack lottery tickets will suffer. Again, I doubt it. Lottery tickets tend to be high ceiling guys and mostly have low floors. One year in A ball tends to show which one they’ll be. Much like the name suggests, you don’t keep your scratched lottery ticket around for another year to see if scratching it more will change the outcome.
It’s not MLB’s job to make sure everyone who wants a chance gets one. I will say this though, if you’re doing this, best start making sure that the fewer players lead to better treatment of who remains.
A big part of me feels this is getting ahead of a change the league feels coming like a freight train, which is paying more for MiLB players. If that’s the case, it stands to reason you’d like to be reasonably assured you aren’t carrying obvious dead weight.
Bear with me here, I’m an old restaurant exec so allow me to use that experience to try and draw a comparison. Labor costs are a constant reality in the biz, usually based on a percentage of revenue each establishment has a different set of numbers and expectations but typically 25% is considered manageable for labor. Now that could mean you have 25 workers on a shift or if you have some higher paid employees it could mean you have 20 or 21. In other words, the restaurant isn’t trying to lose money because some employees make more. Well, on a much larger scale, MLB is the same.
Managing everything at a higher level for 150 employees, is much better than 180.
Now, ten years from now, should this go through, I’m sure someone will dig up some names that almost slipped through, or did in fact get missed, but the overall savings and improved development path I think will outweigh any real detriment.
At the end of the day, I’m ok with this, and I’m of the belief this is little more than a trimming of the fat and streamlining of the process, which most teams won’t struggle to do.