Detroit Tigers: The Ongoing Struggle For Minor League Baseball

As the discussions continue between MiLB & Major League Baseball, the new proposed plan still posses the one constant that has been present since it was first leaked in the fall of 2019. Teams will get squeezed out of existence. Here’s the latest update on how it affects the Detroit Tigers.

The minors will look different, no matter when baseball returns. Per J.J. Cooper of Baseball America, several sources with knowledge of the negotiations say MiLB will indicate that it agrees to 120 affiliated teams in a new PBA. (Professional Baseball Agreement)

However, MiLB on Twitter disagreed with the recent articles that have been recently reported.

When this was first leaked, the two teams that were on the rumored chopping block that would affect the Tigers are Double-A affiliate Erie Seawolves and the short-season Single-A affiliate, the Norwich Sea Unicorns. Rookie and short-season ball would be eliminated across the board, according to the proposed plan.

Frankly, it does not make much sense to eliminate the SeaWolves. The Governor of Pennsylvania announced in 2018 the Seawolves were awarded a $12 million grant. UPMC Park has a new scoreboard that was installed for the 2019 season.  Also, they are putting the final touches on the new renovations to the park including a Stadium Club area. Per the team’s website: 

“UPMC Park will have the newest and premier downtown Erie meeting space with a brand new stadium club. Located on the top level of the new left-field stadium building, the UPMC Park Stadium Club will feature accommodations for up to 230 people. Fans will be able to access the stadium club by both exterior and interior entrances. The new club will be perfect for business meetings, banquets, parties, and receptions. Patrons will have the ability to book fully catered events in this year-round facility that overlooks the field at UPMC Park.”

Erie is 4 hours and 18 minutes away from Detroit off I-90 by car, according to Google Maps. Erie has stepped up to make their facilities more modern and been with the Tigers since 2001, which is the longest Double-A affiliate associated with Detroit  I get it, baseball is a business but to have familiarity with the parent club helps and they are more than willing to make the changes necessary.

With all that being said, there were discussions about Class-A teams moving up to Triple-A. There are three in Michigan with the West Michigan Whitecaps, Lansing Lugnuts, and the Great Lakes Loons. The reason I mention this is per Baseball America’s report, teams want to line up their affiliates closer together. The cost to move up to Triple-A would be $12 million dollars. If Detroit is content with Toledo, perhaps West Michigan could become the new Triple-A affiliate of the Chicago White Sox.

Back in 2018, in an interview on FS1’s First Things First, Rob Manfred mentioned a few teams as possible expansion locations as the quote below was first seen in SI.

“Portland, Las Vegas, Charlotte, Nashville in the United States, certainly Montreal, maybe Vancouver, in Canada,” Manfred said. “We think there’s places in Mexico we could go over the long haul.”

The Charlotte Knights are the current Triple-A home for Chicago, but it could soon be a major league city of its own. In this total hypothetical situation, Chicago to Grand Rapids is not too far away for a last-second a call-up. Most Tigers fans, myself included, would hope this long-standing affiliation continues, but losing the Whitecaps is a real possibility.

Regardless of what happens, the most important thing to remember is the loss of jobs. Up to 150-200 roster spots would be eliminated from a result of the draft going from 40 to 25 rounds.  That and plus, the trickle-down economics effect to each city that has a ballpark. The plan of a “Dream League” that would take  42 teams cut out of MiLB by filling their rosters with undrafted players may not work. I am not trying to be pessimistic by that last sentence but there is no guarantee those players could make it up and comparisons to the minor league system would be there from day one.

There has been no discussion on the international short-season teams (The Tigers have two in the Dominican Republic) so I hope that is addressed soon. The stories from international players working their tails off to get to the majors while in the meanwhile, supporting their families, those stories must continue and I hope they can.