Today, Baseball America released a story in preparation for MLB and Minor League Baseball returning to the negotiation table, and in doing so released a couple of new pieces of news about what is being discussed. For us fans on the west coast, there are interesting notes of the east coast focus of these negotiations, and how it might affect the west coast.
First: Switching the Hi-A and Lo-A levels…the story is that MLB is considering switching which levels are “High” Single-A and “Low” Single-A, so that the California/Carolina/Florida leagues get moved down to Low-A, and South Atlantic, Midwest, Northwest, and potential Mid-Atlantic Leagues get moved up to High-A.
The major justification is of course, east coast favorable, as the major reason named is the benefit of moving players from minor league complexes in Florida to the now Low-A Florida State League teams, which play mostly in the same complexes. There’s also the theory that making Low-A warmer weather locations will help players from the Caribbean adjust to life in the US more by making that first year more climate friendly.
This move might have an outsized effect on west coast teams and their affiliates. Many west coast teams use their California League teams as rehab destinations. The Giants often will use either San Jose or Sacramento as rehab stops based on whomever is at home, but most California teams don’t have their AAA teams close enough for that luxury. Oakland’s current Triple-A team is Las Vegas, which is somewhat close, but even if MLB changes Triple-A affiliations to be closer, there are not enough teams on the west coast to support all six Pacific-sitting teams.
Moving the California League to Low-A means those rehab appearances will be against much lower competition, potentially meaning that the rehab stops for injured Major Leaguers will do less to prepare them for the Majors. By comparison, east coast teams mostly have far more options of levels. (Non-Texas middle American teams are still screwed in nearby rehab, either in the old or new situations.)
This is a very small thing in the big picture, but it is yet another east-coast bias in the sport, and another picture of how that east coast bias is figuring into this plan surrounding changes to the minors..
Other examples of that bias: Do you really think the “Dream League” is for the teams getting removed from the NWL, CAL and Pioneer leagues? That they will play with all those Appalachian cities with those travel costs? Um…no. Also, the move to force west coast teams into long term agreements with the NWL’s new full-season affiliates will break some teams’ longstanding affiliations and support of new facilities back east, like the Giants and Augusta.
Okay…moving onto a different subject from this story: The idea of split-leagues. There is an idea the Florida State League could split their league with the NY-P cities, so that games in the first half are played in Florida (which generally draws poorly) and plays the second half in NY-P.
This idea then floats that the Northwest League could do the same with Arizona Complexes. The article states that some Northwest League teams are hesitant to go full season…and who can blame them? The region is so famous for rain that the Portland AAA team once considered the name “Wet Sox”!
I am intrigued by this idea, though it fits better if the Northwest League stays Low-A. In that sense, it allows Low-A west coast teams to play near their Extended Spring Training brethren…giving them that same advantage mentioned for the FSL earlier.
There’s the question of how a new “Arizona State League” would draw fans and financially in the earlier months…but I doubt that league would take in new independent owners, so that might be moot. They may be operated only as a slightly more monetized version of the current complex leagues.
There may also be an issue with shared complexes and room for everyone, though that would probably only be with the Mariners and Padres in Peoria. Remember, it’s not like the other spring training complexes would be empty over the spring; every organization would have extended spring training going on.
Perhaps there is a good middle ground in these proposals. Rather than switching the entirety of Low and High A. Let the FSL switch, and promoting whatever new Mid-Atlantic League is created to take the High-A position. Keep the NWL Low-A, and let them do the half-year approach with teams playing the first half in Arizona.
This still leaves out the teams in the other Low-A league(s) out of the complex advantages. The current Low-A SAL has many teams that probably wouldn’t want to go half season (again, Augusta, with that shiny new stadium). But some might, as might some teams in the (currently High-A) Carolina League.
So maybe the massive clump of teams in the mid-south-Atlantic region get completely realigned with less profitable teams moving to half-seasons, and they make up the other Low-A league, that also splits the season with complexes.
That would be complicated, massive, and ugly to do. But if you’re going to do something that massive…now is the time.