While Major League Baseball brainstorms possible scenarios to start the season, the minors have pretty much been left in limbo. Players are being paid $400 a week through the end of May, but that came at the expense of suspending their contracts and temporarily nullifying teams’ agreements to supply affiliates with players. Outside of that, nothing has been discussed publicly.
Based on everything we know at this point, the earliest possible date by which minor league baseball could feasibly return is July 1, and that’s the best case scenario. What’s become more of a reality lately is the potential for a doomsday scenario in which the season doesn’t happen for the farm system at all in 2020 .
I try to avoid falling too far into negative thinking and I truly want to remain hopeful about Cubs prospects getting some development in this year. But the possibility that the minor league season is canceled is unavoidable at this point, which leaves a whole list of issues that are going to have to be resolved fairly quickly.
Regardless of what organizations and affiliates would like to do, they’re at the mercy of local, state, and federal officials when it comes to playing baseball again. Minor league teams are particularly susceptible to this because they don’t have the luxury of cockamamie plans to play at spring training sites or open the season in Japan.
Some minor league teams will fold as the result of a canceled season because they are not built to withstand a shutdown of this magnitude. They rely on gate receipts and concessions to keep the lights on and pay their employees. They’re not hoarding reserves of cash or stockpiling gold bars to sell off in case of emergency.
Even a partial season feeds into MLB‘s diabolical desire to shrink the MiLB system to four full-season affiliates and rookie leagues and to eliminate short-season squads next summer. In all, the plan calls for the elimination of 42 different affiliates and would seek to realign the entire minor-league system.
A lot of contractual issues would need to be resolved regarding minor league players. Big leaguers would be credited with service time if their season is canceled, but prospects aren’t union members and aren’t able to negotiate the same protections. Many players would have been on the final year of their minor-league deals in 2020, so their potential free agency is up in the air. The Cubs have over 20 players they signed as free agents last winter who could be on the market again after not playing an inning this season.
Then you have the Rule 5-eligible players. The Cubs currently have over 60 players in that category, about 10 of whom would be in contention for a 40-man spot this fall. Cory Abbott and Brailyn Marquez might be givens, but Dakota Mekkes and several others could catch the eye of another organization if not protected.
MLB has the authority to shrink the draft down to as few as five rounds and push back the July 2 international free agency signing date to January 2021. That will significantly impact the amount of new players coming into the game, which ties back to the idea of large-scale contraction. And that’s just how it impacts teams.
Missing a year of development will hamper scores of young players, particularly those who may have been ready to break out. There might even be some players out there who just hang up their gloves to put food on the table and a roof over their head. The ramifications on the sport and those who play it could be felt for years to come.
And those are just some of the big-picture issues, since diving into the minutia would take all day. While it’s still possible that solutions can be found to play some kind of season and get things back on track, it’s impossible to deny the looming possibility that we don’t see minor-league baseball. So how about we all just keep our fingers crossed for a while and hope that none of this comes to pass.