PBA July 2020: A-Ball Ambiguity

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As the coronavirus pandemic continues to cast its vast shadow across the world, Major League Baseball has been understandably focused on primary concerns such as forging a hard-fought agreement with the MLBPA and working toward safety rolling out something that will at least resemble a 2020 baseball season. Naturally,  the once-contentious Professional Baseball Agreement (PBA) with Minor League Baseball (MiLB) has been moved to the back burner, both in terms of public announcement and rumor mill.  While we can expect attention to accelerate as we approach the quickly-arriving September 30 deadline, for now, we hear that most summer of sounds: crickets.

But minor league geeks haven’t forgotten, and amateurs like myself have noticed a few blips on the radar from more prominent and connected geeks. Baseball America‘s J.J. Cooper, who has been the leading reporter on this topic from the get-go, has quietly dropped a few juicy nuggets of information. Some of these nuggets lingered behind the BA paywall,  and proved to be too tantalizing for me to pass up. Alas, I spent money I probably shouldn’t have on a subscription. These little nuggets, as well as some thoughts that I’ve had while moving around spreadsheet cells, has drawn me to a point where I feel like I can veer into the realm of speculation without going too far down the rabbit hole.

Simply put: it’s pretty much all about Single-A. Sure, there are ripple effects from having a few teams join Triple-A, a few leave Double-A, a few get promoted here and there–but most the burning questions are coming from Single-A, specifically good old full-season “Low-A” Ball. Here are some of the burning questions I’ve had lately.

 

 

Question #1: Which Low-A teams are actually going to lose their PDC?

Though the infamous list of 42 is, by many accounts, outdated and erroneous, let’s take a look at the current Low-A teams slated (or at least rumored) for exclusion in the new PBA: the Beloit Snappers, Burlington Bees, Clinton LumberKings, Hagerstown Suns, Lexington Legends, and West Virginia Power. That’s three in the Midwest League and three in the South Atlantic (Sally) League.

First up, we have Beloit, and the Snappers have had some big news. Ground has been broken on a brand new stadium in Beloit. Now, one might suggest that the new stadium could be for a non-affiliated team such as a franchise in the summer collegiate Northwoods League or the indy American Association, but one would appear to be wrong. Snappers’ owner Quint Studer (who also owns the affiliated Pensacola Blue Wahoos) appears confident that this assures Beloit’s inclusion in the PBA. From a Beloit radio release: “Minor League Baseball is looking at reducing its total number of teams, and Studer is confident the new stadium will keep the Snappers in professional baseball long term. He said he’s had encouraging conversations with Major League Baseball executives and the Oakland Athletics, the Snapper’s [sic] major league affiliate.”

Back in November when the list of 42 was leaked, Ballpark Digest’s report on the list dropped this anecdote: “Beloit’s survival depends on finalizing funding for a new downtown ballpark. If this happens, the Quad Cities River Bandits would be a target.” OK, so the River Bandits are in danger? Hold your horses, sheriff! Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley put his professional reputation on the line when he released a statement relaying that he has talked with MLB brass and that three of the five Iowa-based MiLB teams were safe in the new PBA. The three safe ones are the Iowa Cubs, Cedar Rapids Kernels, and Quad Cities. Dave Heller, owner of the River Bandits, reiterated the statement.  So, the Snappers and River Bandits are safe, right? We’ll come back to this later.

The two Iowa-based teams that were not declared safe, the Bees and LumberKings, are as good as toast. As far as the Sally League goes, I haven’t heard any compelling argument that the Suns, Legends, or Power will be saved. The Suns have been in a similar spot as Beloit in recent years, but their stadium deals never came through. For the Legends and Power, the main culprit seems to geography. Without strong ties to their parent clubs (especially with the Pirates ditching West Virginia a few years back) it is harder to justify the sprawled-out South Atlantic League map. Heck, Lexington, Kentucky is closer to most Midwest League teams than with most Sally League teams.

To recap: In terms of PDC “contraction,” Low-A is losing Burlington, Clinton, Hagerstown, Lexington, and West Virginia. Beloit and Quad Cities are (maybe) safe.

 

 

Question #2: What is really going to happen to the Northwest League?

As the initial list of 42 leaked out, the fate of the (currently Class A-Short Season) Northwest League was spelled out as a “promotion” to full-season Single-A, albeit with a reduction from eight to six teams. The Salem-Keizer Volcanoes and Tri-City Dust Devils were on the November list, though an Athletic article by Keith Law in April stated: “Five of the Northwest League franchises that would survive in this scenario are decided, while the sixth remains up in the air between Boise, Salem-Keizer, and Tri-Cities; Boise is the best market, but the facilities there are considered subpar and the current Rockies affiliate would be an eight-hour bus ride from the nearest team in the reorganized league.”

A more recent piece by J.J. Cooper added a new wrinkle: “Even the very structure of the expected MLB proposal isn’t 100 percent certain. A number of sources indicated that three West Coast teams have expressed to MLB that they would prefer to keep their current low Class A affiliations rather than move to the Northwest League, which is expected to field six low Class A teams for West Coast MLB clubs. There are only eight West Coast clubs, so if three balk at moving to the Northwest League, the geographical advantages of a West Coast low Class A league could become a liability–East Coast and Midwest teams have frequently complained in the past about being stuck in minor league cities on the West Coast, something MLB has worked to avoid in their discussions on reorganizing the minor leagues.

Now that is very interesting. Since we’re digging in this deep, I want to make some guesses about what is going on. Cooper’s group of “eight West Coast MLB clubs” seems to include the Mountain time zone Rockies and Diamondbacks in addition to the Padres, Angels, Dodgers, A’s, Giants, and Mariners. Beyond that group, what other MLB teams may be candidates for NWL affiliates? Those located in the Midwest are generally satisfied with, well, Midwest League teams. As far as the central/south teams go, the Rangers have the Sally’s Hickory Crawdads locked down, the Astros (currently with Quad Cities) are an unknown, and so are the Royals–expectedly losing Lexington. Another team to consider is the Toronto Blue Jays, who have maintained their iron grip on Canada by keeping the Vancouver Canadians under their wing. Here’s my (partially-informed) take on potential MLB teams.

Angels: Here is a prime candidate for an NWL team. They are losing Orem in the Pioneer League as well as Burlington in the MWL.

Astros: As I mentioned above, they may be losing Quad Cities. Though it is definitely worth mentioning that they own their Carolina League team (Fayetteville) so it’s easy to see them jumping on a Sally League team and going the all-Carolina route at the Class A levels–similar to the White Sox or Rangers. The Astros are the epitome of a franchise that is likely to complain about prospects having too much travel and not enough nutrition time or whatever. I’d be surprised to see Houston take on a team in the NWL, but they’re worth watching on the fringe.

Athletics: The A’s are always an affiliation wildcard, and they have shown a perennial willingness to defy geographic common sense in favor of nicer facilities. Assuming that Beloit keeps a PDC, Quint Studer’s quote (above) about Oakland having had “encouraging conversations” with Beloit tells me that the A’s are very likely to be one of the three  West Coast defectors mentioned by Cooper.

Blue Jays: I include the Jays because they have had a good thing going with the Vancouver Canadians for quite some time. But would they really choose BC over the Lansing Lugnuts, the closest Class A team to Toronto? Since I haven’t heard otherwise, I would guess that the Lugnuts trump the Canadians. Tough decision for Toronto.

Dodgers/Diamondbacks/Padres: I’m lumping these three together because their Class A situations have a lot of similarities and they are the three I thought of immediately when I read about the West Coast defectors. All three are easy to see linking up/staying with NWL franchises, but all three are also currently affiliated with vital Midwest League teams. The Dodgers have sent about all of their top prospects to Michigan in recent years, so maybe they like the Loons’ facilities enough to choose them over a team in Oregon or Washington. The D’Backs have a good relationship with Hillsboro in the NWL, but they also have a strong partner in Kane County. The Padres are (probably) saying goodbye to the Dust Devils, though they may choose the Fort Wayne TinCaps over an alternative NWL team. After all, the northwesterly reaches of the nation aren’t that much closer than the Midwest to a team tucked in near the Mexico border. A plane ride from SoCal to Chicago vs. a plane ride to Seattle–does it matter that much when the real issue is quality of facilities?

Giants: Another wildcard. They’re (likely) cutting the Volcanoes loose after 20+ years, but they have a good thing going in faraway Augusta, Georgia, where the GreenJackets play in a sparkly new stadium. I can see it going either way. The Giants may be one of the west coast defectors, but they may also face stiff competition for Augusta–especially if the GreenJackets are promoted to High A. (more on that in a bit)

Mariners: Whew, an easy one. The M’s are all but a lock to stay with Everett, or at least stay with their local league. They have no notable connection to another Low-A team, and they’ve only been with the departing West Virginia Power out of necessity.

Rockies: The Asheville Tourists, given the age of their park, were one of the teams I was most surprised to see spared from the list of 42, and their relationship with Colorado has always been something of an anomaly. The Boise anecdote suggests that the Rockies aren’t too happy with their current NWL setup. Would they choose the Tourists over one of the NWL clubs that survive the move to Single-A?

Royals: An MLB team located right in the middle of America is at least worth mentioning, especially since their current Lexington partner is on the chopping block. But if a team like Kane County, Fort Wayne, Great Lakes, Quad Cities, etc. became available, I’d think that the Royals would go that route over any of the NWL teams.

Now let’s talk about the Northwest League teams. We (supposedly) have five MLB teams interested in the NWL, and we (seemingly) have five NWL teams that are “safe.” But there isn’t going to be a league with an odd number of teams, and every article to date suggests that the number will be six.

But what about four teams? This could help compensate for the multitude of NY-Penn League teams clamoring to be saved (we’ll swing back to this) and it would also fix the problem of some West Coast MLB teams not wanting to leave their current Single-A teams. A move to four is possible, if unlikely. But first, let’s examine the NWL teams individually.

Boise: As mentioned above, the Hawks apparently have “subpar” facilities and they certainly stretch the geographic footprint, er, clawprint. The Rockies don’t seem attached. Maybe the Hawks are better off joining up with whatever becomes of the Pioneer League.

Eugene: The Emeralds have a nice new park. I think they are safe. They will lose their affiliation with the Cubs, but there will certainly be other suitors.

Everett: The Aquasox seem safe. I think that the Mariners will continue to send their prospects up the road to Funko Field.

Hillsboro: I think the Hops are safe, and there’s a good chance that they continue on with the D’Backs.

Salem-Keizer: The Volcanoes have been solidly on the list of 42, and the Giants seem keen to let them erupt. The one thing that could save them is geography, as they are located close to (and between) Eugene and Hillsboro. If the NWL somehow did drop to four teams, the most logical combo would be Everett and the three Oregon teams. If Salem-Keizer were to unexpectedly spend a bunch of money to upgrade facilities, why not?

Spokane: This one is a toughie. Assuming they are still in the league, they will be losing their relationship to the Rangers, who have Hickory in the Sally League. They stretch the geographic footprint of the NWL significantly, especially if the Dust Devils are eliminated. In that case, they are a closer bus ride to some of the soon-to-be-contracted Pioneer League teams.

Tri-City: The Dust Devils could go either way. Assuming Spokane stays, the Devils help bridge the geographic gap–especially with the Oregon teams. But they were on the list of 42, implying that the Padres would prefer Fort Wayne, Indiana to Pasco, Washington.

Vancouver: It seems ludicrous to suggest that a city as large and vital as Vancouver would lose affiliated ball, but the Canadians have some things working against them. Though they are geographically close to Everett, and not outrageously far from Spokane or Hillsboro, it still takes some doing for a bus to make its way through the notorious traffic east of the Cascades and over a border crossing. Furthermore, there could be issues with pandemic restrictions, which could complicate things in 2021 if nothing else. I once went to a game at Nat Bailey Stadium. It’s a cool spot, but is very much a mid-20th Century concrete monolith. (Of course, I have no idea what the weight room and clubhouse look like, and that’s what really matters.) Then there is the PDC with the Blue Jays. If Toronto doesn’t step up to protect their countrymen, a market that could probably support an MLB team may lose affiliated ball altogether.

Since we’re in this deep, I might as well make some predictions. Though I mentioned a potential drop to four teams (it would make sense, really) I don’t think it’s going to happen. Cooper, in a more recent article for BA, said: “the Northwest League would move up from short-season ball and likely have six teams as well.” So let’s assume that’s the plan. Now let’s play matchmaker.

“Safe” teams

Everett AquaSox. They will most certainly stay with the Mariners.

Hillsboro Hops. Let’s assume they stay with Arizona. The D’Backs could choose a MWL team instead, but I have a feeling here.

Eugene Emeralds. The Ems could be a good fit for the Angels or any one of the Dodgers/Giants/Rockies/Padres/Royals contingent, should they choose to leave the MWL or SAL.

Safe? teams

Spokane Indians. If Spokane makes the cut, they will have to do so with a new parent club. The same list of affiliates for Eugene would apply.

Vancouver Canadians. I think there’s a good chance Toronto chooses Lansing over Vancouver. That may spell the end for the Canadians, but if not, they could link up with some random team in need of a Single-A affiliate.

Unsafe teams

Boise Hawks. If they make it, I can’t see another team clamoring for the affiliation, especially if the Rockies (and presumably other clubs) have deemed their facilities to be “subpar.”

Salem-Keizer Volcanoes. Maybe they pull a rabbit out of their hat, and the Giants decide to stick around. Or they simply (likely) lose their PDC.

Tri-City Dust Devils. Tri-City may make it based on geography, but there must have been reasons they were included in the list of 42. The Padres don’t seem attached.

Alright. That’s more than I thought I’d write about the NWL, so let’s move on.

 

 

Question #3: What is up with the Mid-Atlantic League?

As long as the PBA rumors have been floating around, there’s been talk about a new “Mid-Atlantic League” (I’m calling it the Mally League for now) that would ease travel burdens–particularly in the sprawling Sally League. Which teams would be candidates?

Obvious

The Delmarva Shorebirds and Lakewood BlueClaws stretch that Sally League footprint, and without Hagerstown (or even West Virginia/Lexington) there is no northern division of the Sally League for these teams to slot into. A new Mally League is built for Delmarva and Lakewood. The BlueClaws could stick with Philly, but Delmarva may be compelled to get a new parent club.

Probable

The Aberdeen IronBirds were left off the list of 42, and the reason is that they would be joining a new Mally League–presumably as the Orioles affiliate. That may invalidate Delmarva’s parentage, but maybe the Shorebirds would be able to join the Nationals bandwagon. There are other supposed candidates, but their fate is tied to other factors.

Possible

If geographic consolidation is as important as has been reported, then it would make sense to shift a team or two from the Carolina League to the Mally League. The Wilmington Blue Rocks are an obvious choice, and if a second team were called for in order to balance the numbers, the Fredericksburg Nationals would make the most sense. Then there are the New York-Penn League teams on the bubble, and this is one of the squishiest spots in the whole plan. In addition to Aberdeen, the Hudson Valley Renegades, Tri-City ValleyCats, and West Virginia Black Bears were left off the list of 42 in anticipation of a Mally League. But those three would stretch the geography significantly–particularly the Black Bears to the west and the ValleyCats to the east. We should also consider the teams that were on the list of 42, but have had significant public backlash or defense from MLB since the fall: the Lowell Spinners, Staten Island Yankees, Norwich Sea Unicorns, etc. The Brooklyn Cyclones are supposedly moving to the Eastern League, but if Binghamton manages to hold on to their hard-fought spot, the Cyclones may need to be in the Mally.

Wildcards

The latest eye-opener comes courtesy of my new Baseball America subscription. Cooper’s paywalled June 25th article mentions that several current independent league teams are being considered for addition to the affiliated ranks, with “the Atlantic League’s Somerset Patriots being the team most likely to be brought into affiliated ball.” I have certainly been aware of the Patriots for several years, but I was puzzled why they would be considered so strongly. A little digging on Wikipedia brought me this likely answer: Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital has a 10,000 square foot physical therapy and sports medicine center at Somerset’s ballpark, and the hospital serves as official health care provider of the club. Ding ding ding, that’s exactly what MLB teams are looking for. That ballpark is located about halfway between NYC and Philly, so I can easily see the Yankees, Mets, or even the Phillies particularly wanting Somerset. It would be pretty close to Wilmington and Lakewood, not to mention some of those old NY-Penn teams. Of course, I wouldn’t rule out Somerset joining the Eastern League. If that happened, maybe we’d see a demotion of the Richmond Flying Squirrels to the Mally. And who knows about other indy teams? Could the Long Island Ducks be in play? The High Point Rockers have a newer stadium and MLB connections–maybe the Sally League could be a new home.

Of course, these new additions would require other teams to lose their PDC and potentially a bunch of reshuffling. We’ll cover that in a minute.

 

 

Question #4: Could we see a “flattening” of the Single-A levels?

Back in the fall, just as the PBA news broke, there was a report that “any proposal to flatten out two levels of Single-A ball to further address player travel would certainly have its adherents.” Before we were talking about flattening the curve, we were talking about flattening Single-A.

It’s hard to say exactly what this means in practice. Before the 1990 PBA, there was only Single-A, and it took another decade-plus until there was a strict one-affiliate-per-level practice. For example, the Dodgers had two High-A teams (Vero Beach of the Florida State League and a given California League team) for years. Heck, the Oakland A’s of the late nineties/early 2000s had two teams–Modesto and Visalia–in same league! It might be nice for the Orioles and Nationals, for instance, to have two teams each in the new Mally League. That’s sort of an extreme measure, but it’s basically what’s been happening in  recent years in the Gulf Coast and Arizona Leagues. Player development is the alpha and omega for MLB clubs, not staging largely meaningless games.

Beyond that, a return to old Single-A model could have some benefits to the overall  minor league ecosystem, especially for MLB teams intent on reducing intraleague travel distance and proximity to parent club. It would also alleviate the sting of having teams “demoted” a level, such as Wilmington getting the boot to the Mally. Perhaps most importantly of all, it would eliminate the scuttling of common sense realignments due to the need to shoehorn exactly 30 teams within three leagues for High A, and 30 teams within (apparently) four leagues for Low A. You’d hate to see a more deserving team lose its PDC while another less-deserving team makes it because of the 30-for-30 rule. There’s a lot more flexibility when you say “let’s have 7 leagues composed of sixty teams, and make it as geographically dense as possible. Every MLB team can pick two of those sixty–regardless of league and level.”

As someone who has been doing pointless recreational MiLB realignment scenarios in Microsoft Excel for many years, I thought that this factor would be a major sticking point in the new PBA. But as I’ve looked at it lately, I’ve noticed something surprising: it’s not really necessary.

High-A is only slated to lose four teams, and Lancaster is being replaced cleanly by Fresno. That means the level is (potentially) losing the places of the Frederick Keys, Florida Fire Frogs, and Daytona Tortugas. Let’s take that at face value. Despite Daytona Beach approving public funds to renovate Jackie Robinson Ballpark, the pandemic has changed the picture, and Daytona is still on the chopping block until further notice. Also, although the NHL (for now) and its 31 teams has normalized the idea of odd-numbered leagues/divisions, I doubt the Florida State League will go that route. Unless the Fire Frogs and Atlanta Braves manage to pull off an arrangement in North Port or the Space Coast, the FSL will drop to 10 teams.

A loss of the Frederick Keys barely registers in terms of balancing out the Carolina League–there are tons of moving pieces related to the Sally and Mally Leagues. A flexible number of Sally League teams could presumably be added to the Carolina League to bring the level’s number up to 30, and help with the league’s geography in the process. Some teams, assuming no flattening, are tied by the parent club. As in, Greenville and Salem are going to both remain with the Red Sox. So even if Greenville is a good candidate for promotion, that’s unlikely to happen. Others are much more free–the Greensboro Grasshoppers, Columbia Fireflies, Charleston RiverDogs, and the Augusta GreenJackets–who technically play in North Augusta, South Carolina. It’s easy to see any of these clubs in the Carolina League, and they would help with the CL’s southern contigent, especially Myrtle Beach. Pulaski, Virginia is rumored to remain in affiliated ball, and they make more geographic sense alongside Salem and Lynchburg in the new northern (but less northern than now) wing of the Carolina League. Lots of options.

So while we could see a flattening out of Single-A, it doesn’t really seem necessary, so my best guess is that inertia wins out. But if the concept has its “adherents,” it makes sense for MLB to at least keep the option open.

 

 

Question #5: What about a “Central League”?

We’re just spitballing at this point. There is another idea I’ve had that could solve a handful of problems,  but would make sense only if Single-A were flattened out. First, here are the problems: 1. the Eastern League is stretched too far to the west, 2. the Midwest League is stretched too far to the east, 3. Cleveland hasn’t had a stable High-A affiliate since losing Kinston, 4. the Erie SeaWolves don’t really deserve to lose their PDC,  and 5. the West Virginia Black Bears are supposedly safe, but have no good geographic home without the NY-Penn.

So what about a 4-team (for now) Central League (Rust Belt League?) composed of the Akron RubberDucks, Erie SeaWolves, Lake County Captains, and West Virginia Black Bears?

The biggest issue is moving Akron. The franchise brims with vitality, and satisfies Cleveland’s need for a Double-A club. If not for Akron, they’d have to go further east or else go to the Southern/Texas Leagues. However, Canal Park is pushing a quarter century old, and more pressing–Akron is on an absolute island in the Eastern League, especially if Erie drops out. Altoona, Pennsylvania (over 200 miles away) is poised to be their nearest competitor.

The next biggest issue is that Cleveland would still want both Akron and Lake County. Moving the Captains to this proposed mini-league would considerably alleviate the Midwest League’s travel burden and make a for a nicely compact Central League. If there were a dramatic flattening of Single-A that included the option of an MLB team having two clubs in a given league, this could work out. It may even be very convenient for shuffling players back and forth as needed and sharing resources. Would a Southern/Texas/easterly Eastern League-Akron-Lake County combo be better than the Akron/Lynchburg/Lake County combo that Cleveland enjoys today? Meh, about the same. But it would facilitate some other issues in the big picture.

Erie would be able to stay in affiliated ball. The SeaWolves have sunk a bunch of money into their park recently, and there has been a public backlash against stripping them of their PDC. The Pirates and Tigers haven’t expressed fondness for their (former) affiliate, but with continued clubhouse improvements, they could join on with a team like the Reds or Royals or Rockies who are poised for unstable High A arrangements in the new PBA.

Finally, we have West Virginia. The Black Bears were spared from the list of 42, probably because Pittsburgh loves the local-ish affiliate that uses WVU’s new-ish training facility. But Morgantown is in the middle of nowhere, minors-wise, and other expected-to-vanish teams (Hagerstown, Frederick, Mahoning Valley, State College, the Power) make it even more stark. Altoona is the closest, but there is no way WV moving to Double-A–both the Black Bears and the Curve derive their vitality from the Pirates, and it’s avantage Altoona on that front. But Akron, Lake County, and Erie aren’t too far.

So what about a 4-team Central League in a flattened Single-A, with Cleveland claiming Akron and Lake County, Pittsburgh claiming West Virginia (and Bradenton) and Erie going to team X? With future expansion, maybe Charleston, WV and/or Lexington could come back, with Dayton joining in and improving the Midwest League travel situation even more.

This is just a crackpot idea. It won’t happen, nut it’s mildly fun to talk about.

 

 

Question #6: How will things be realigned?

Realignment scenarios are pretty worthless when you don’t have full information, but what the hell. While I’ve mentioned some scenarios (like reducing the NWL to four clubs) that could be useful in making the puzzle fit together right, let’s keep it grounded in the closest thing we have to reality here in the middle of the summer. Here’s a choice quote from that recent Cooper article: “At low Class A, it is expected that the current two leagues will split into four. The South Atlantic League would move to a six-team format, while a new Mid-Atlantic League would also field six teams. The Midwest League would drop to 12 teams and the Northwest League would move up from short-season ball and likely have six teams as well.”

First, let’s pick this apart.

Northwest League. If we’re sticking with six, it’s probably going to be fairly uneventful. Barring unexpected changes due to geographic alignment or other factors, Eugene, Everett, Hillsboro, Spokane, and Vancouver are in. One of Boise, Salem-Keizer, and Tri-City is safe, while the other two are axed like a Douglas fir.

Midwest League. How do we drop from 16 to 12 teams? Burlington and Clinton are gone of course. Bowling Green has been rumored to being promoted to the Southern League, taking the place of Jackson or Chattanooga. The fourth was expected to be Beloit, with Quad Cities as a backup. If both of those teams are off the table, it’s anyone’s guess as to who else would be in danger. Lake County and Wisconsin are the geographic outliers, but they both have local parent clubs who likely want to keep them nearby. Kane County’s ballpark is nearly 30 years old, though they did player-friendly renovations as recently as 2014. Plus, they are geographically centered and have great attendance numbers–for what that’s worth in this discussion. What they don’t have is a stable parent club, and if Arizona would prefer Hillsboro, they could be vulnerable. If the Blue Jays choose Vancouver over Lansing, could the Lugnuts be in danger? Let’s step away from the cliff. But if the MWL is truly dropping to 12, there will be a tough decision made somewhere along the line. This is where that discussion about a 4-team Northwest League has more momentum.

South Atlantic League. How do we drop the Sally from 14 to 6 teams? Three (Hagerstown, Lex, WV) are on the list of 42, but what about the other five? Let’s say that two (Delmarva and Lakewood) are definitely headed to the Mally. Three more to remove? Simple. Let’s say three of the Augusta/Charleston/Columbia/Greensboro contingent move up to the Carolina League.

Mid-Atlantic League. How do we make a six-team Mally League? We’ve got the two from the Sally. There’s Aberdeen and maybe some more of the old NY-Penn teams. There are (possibly) a few from the Carolina League, and probably at least one addition from indy ball, such as Somerset. In other words, keeping it to only six may prove to be more of a challenge.

As mentioned earlier, High A will likely be less dramatic. I’m very curious to see whether or not the Florida State League drops the Tortugas and Fire Frogs. Whether the FSL is at 10 or 12 teams will have a significant bearing on the future of the Carolina League, which is surely going to see some change either way. Or maybe Single-A will be flattened out and the Carolina will stay more or less as it is now.

 

 

Question #7: Will any of this come to pass?

Speaking of flattening, the real boss in this whole equation is our old nemesis SARS-CoV-2. It’s tough to imagine that the 2019 list of 42 is anywhere close to what we’ll see when the PBA is forged after the Summer of Coronavirus. There have been many rumblings about minor league teams on the financial ropes, in the midst of this lost season, trying to sell large stakes in the franchise at cut rates to MLB teams. That could be a game-changer, as could other recent discussions (for another article) about keeping the short-season leagues after all. Either way, it’s all conjecture at this point.

On that note, it’s time to flatten the curve of this bloated article. Thanks as always for reading. Be well.

 

 

 

 

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