The Triple-A Las Vegas Aviators are grounded, and the Double-A Midland RockHounds are in the doghouse. The High-A Stockton Ports are moored in place, the Single-A Beloit Snappers have been rendered toothless, and the Low-A Vermont Lake Monsters are now figments of our imagination.
The 2020 MLB season is hopefully on the way in a few weeks, pending the status of the resurgent coronavirus pandemic. However, even if the majors do get going as planned, we’ll still be missing a lot of baseball this summer.
In a decision that has seemed like a foregone conclusion for months, the 2020 minor league season was officially canceled on Tuesday. Minor League Baseball made the formal announcement in a statement on Twitter:
“Major League Baseball has informed Minor League Baseball that it will not be providing its affiliated Minor League teams with players for the 2020 season. As a result, there will not be a Minor League Baseball season in 2020.”
This news comes as no surprise given the state of the country right now, over three months into significant shutdowns of most areas of our public society. All sports have been hit hard, with leagues postponing or canceling seasons, and even those who do try to play won’t have the option to sell tickets to fans due to social distancing guidelines that preclude large gatherings of people.
MLB can afford to squeeze out a few dozen games, thanks in part to generous TV revenues and their billionaire owners’ ability to absorb short-term losses, but minor league teams run on much smaller and tighter budgets that rely heavily on gate revenues. And that’s before getting to the health ramifications of operating another couple hundred teams in small towns around the nation, traveling constantly to visit each other. Furthermore, while MLB can spend to optimize their safety and testing protocols, MiLB teams might not be able to match that kind of outlay.
There are a couple small bright sides, sort of. Most franchises are still paying their minor leaguers, albeit only $400 per week. Each individual club may also decide whether to allow their farmhands to participate in independent leagues during this hiatus, though many of those leagues have closed down for the year too.
Meanwhile, a handful of prospects will at least get to participate a little bit this summer. Each major league team has a 60-man player pool to work with this summer, and many top youngsters are finding their way onto those lists. Even if they have no chance at cracking MLB this summer, it’s still an opportunity to keep training with the club and learning from more experienced players and coaches.
The A’s are no exception, as 17 of their top 19 prospects are represented. Seven of those names aren’t on the 40-man roster, and three of them are teenagers. The most recent addition is 18-year-old outfielder Brayan Buelvas, according to multiple insider reports.
Overall, though, his has been a disastrous year for the minor leagues, and one that could have dire long-term effects. Even before the pandemic hit, MLB was angling to eliminate dozens of low-level teams, perhaps as much as 25% of the entire league — and their negotiating leverage has only increased toward that goal since then. Now, absent an entire year of operation, it’s fair to wonder whether some farm clubs might simply go broke and have to fold (or at best, be sold).
Maybe things will go back to normal next year, or maybe this is the end of the minors as we know them and the whole system will look different moving forward. Whatever the future may hold, it’s clear that the present won’t include any joy in Mudville.