Major League Baseball is in negotiations with its 160 minor league teams about efforts to “reorganize elements of the system” that could reduce the number of affiliated teams from 160 to 120, according to reports.
The current agreement between MLB and the minor league teams — called the Professional Baseball Agreement — expires at the end of the 2020 season. MLB is looking to make some major changes, according to reports, that would overhaul all levels of the minors, particularly at low Class A and below.
Baseball America was the first to report the proposal and detail the restructuring.
Major League Baseball issued a statement to The New York Times saying that discussions are ongoing.
“We are in discussions with the owners of the Minor League teams to reorganize elements of the system with the goal of improving the working conditions of minor league players,” the MLB statement said, “including upgrading the facilities to Major League standards, increasing player compensation, reducing travel time between affiliates for road games, improving transportation and hotel accommodations, increasing the number of off days, and providing better geographical affiliations between the MLB clubs and affiliates.”
Other major changes would involve overhauling full-season minor leagues and shuffling teams throughout the Triple-A, Double-A, high Class A and low Class A levels into leagues that are more geographically friendly, according to Baseball America.
According to the reports, the 40 teams at the lower levels that are not included in this venture would be reclassified into a “Dream League,” which would be run jointly by MLB and Minor League Baseball and would include players who were not selected in the draft, which under this proposal would be moved from June to August and reduced to 20-25 rounds from the total of up to 40 in its current format.
According to The New York Times, Pat O’Conner, the president of Minor League Baseball, sent a letter warning teams of “significant impending changes” and advised not making any major decisions, including financial commitments, beyond the 2020 season.
Some minor league teams would lose existing affiliations with major league franchises under the proposal, according to the reports.
Hall of Famer Mike Piazza agrees to manage Italian baseball team
Hall of Fame catcher Mike Piazza has agreed to manage the Italian baseball team, he announced in a tweet Wednesday.
Piazza said he will manage the team for the 2020 European Baseball Championship and the 2021 World Baseball Classic.
— Mike Piazza (@mikepiazza31) November 13, 2019
This will be Piazza’s first managerial experience since the 12-time All-Star retired in 2008 after a 16-year baseball career.
He was the majority owner of AC Reggiana, a third-tier Italian soccer team, from 2016 until it ceased operations after the 2017-18 season.
Italy finished as the runner-up at the European Baseball Championship this year. It has never made it past the second round in four WBC appearances.
Piazza was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2016. With a career batting average of .308, he hit better than .300 in nine straight seasons and finished with 427 home runs, including a record 396 when he was in the game behind the plate.
‘There are no untouchables’ — How Cubs’ retool will shape offseason across MLB
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — It’s a good week for the Chicago Cubs‘ front office to reacquaint themselves with many of their counterparts from other teams. After all, they could be huddled together behind closed doors for hours this winter. After years of utilizing the free-agent market to augment a young position player core, the script has flipped in Chicago, where the Cubs hold some of the keys to the hot stove season.
“We enjoyed a lot of success and stability and good feelings all around,” Cubs president Theo Epstein said from the general managers meetings in Arizona. “And when things evolved to a place we’re not as proud of, there’s accountability for all of us. That means a lot of change and difficult decisions and trying to move forward and create something new. Change is not always easy, but it’s necessary.”
The change Epstein is referring to has come because of a few factors: The team came up short in the standings the past two years. The Cubs have a group of players who will all become free agents at the same time, after the 2021 season. Finally, there’s the competitive balance tax. Simply put, the Cubs’ payroll comes down if they subtract from their major league roster.
It means a New York Yankees-like retool could be in order, with the team’s front office using this winter and possibly next July to acquire younger, controllable players and stock a thin farm system. It also means opponents could be lining up for former All-Stars and MVPs, all of whom have championship experience.
“There are no untouchables,” Epstein said.
In truth, the Cubs boss has said the same every year, but it certainly sounds like he means it this time. “We’re in the ‘information collecting’ stages of the process,” one general manager put it on Tuesday.
No one, including the team, knows yet the course the Cubs will take, but the strategy is sound based on the situation they’re in: Lock up a few of the young stars, and trade a couple of others.
“Considering what those guys [Cubs players] have done, you’re going to have interest,” San Diego Padres general manager A.J. Preller said. “You’re going to want to have those conversations about those types of players.”
We’re talking about a group that includes Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez, Willson Contreras, Kyle Schwarber and Addison Russell. Not to mention pitchers such as Jose Quintana and even Craig Kimbrel.
“These guys that keep coming up in trade rumors have a done a ton for our franchise and are among the very best players in the world,” Epstein said.
They should be highly sought after by a large group of teams that includes rebuilders and contenders alike. That’s unusual.
“It’s not always natural for two contending teams to line up,” Philadelphia Phillies GM Matt Klentak said. “It’s not impossible, but it has to do with what kind of talent is going back in either direction.”
Take the Atlanta Braves, for example. GM Alex Anthopoulos admitted Tuesday that third base is wide-open for them. Plus, they have a need at catcher. Atlanta has one of the better farm systems, which should get the Cubs’ attention. There could be a match.
Even Chicago’s former playoff foe, the Los Angeles Dodgers, see the possibilities with a team such as the Cubs. The Dodgers aren’t looking for Double-A prospects — they want to win now. That environment can make trade partners out of those not previously thought of.
“We’re going in saying we want to add as many talented players as we can, and we can move things around,” Dodgers president Andrew Friedman said of his roster. “As we sit here today, we have some future flexibility, we have a deep pipeline of prospects, we have a talented major league roster. We like the position we’re in now. How we navigate things will be dictated by the market.”
That market will include the Cubs for the first time since they won the World Series in 2016. Friedman sees what the Cubs are doing, but it’s too early in the process to know how it will play out — meaning which Cubs are staying and which are going.
“To collect as much information as they can and figure out what makes sense for them balancing the short term and the long term,” Friedman said of Chicago. “I don’t think they know what that means right now. It’s important not to be too rigid in your thinking, and as you collect more information, it helps you navigate in different directions.”
It should make for a wild season of rumors, something the Cubs’ brass would love to suppress. They’re aware of what that could mean to their players, who will undoubtedly see their names all over social media. It’s not pleasant, but it’s reality.
“The nature of any offseason is there are going to be rumors about your major league players, even your best players,” Epstein said. “It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s true.”
But of course, some will be, though ultimately the only thing that matters is which deals get done. Although teams can start conversations now, they might not finish them until summer. The importance of the July 31 deadline wasn’t lost on Yankees GM Brian Cashman, who deftly used his assets to acquire Gleyber Torres from the Cubs for closer Aroldis Chapman in 2016. The Yankees also moved Andrew Miller that July. The moves hastened the Yankees’ retooling strategy. Now it’s the Cubs’ turn.
“If you have a number of teams looking for the same thing, they can exploit the market and take advantage of the competition for their services,” Cashman said of the Cubs. “That’s as creative and dynamic of a front office as you’re ever going to find.
“Whatever course they are plotting is the smart one. And even the courses in more recent years that haven’t played out the way they hoped, I can tell you sitting in my office, every decision they made makes a ton of sense. It’s still a game that comes with no guarantees.”
The harder deals might come with those teams just coming out of their rebuilds, unless a trade-and-sign is in order. Would teams such as the Padres or White Sox take two years of control just to see the player walk when the team is in its prime window to win? The match has to be just right.
“How do we line up?” Preller said. “We’re in the process of having those conversations. Not just with the Cubs but with everyone. This week is about getting some real answers leading up to the winter meetings.”
Many in the industry believe we’ll see some headline-making deals by the time the executives head to San Diego in December. By then, the Cubs will know the market, and the market will know what the Cubs are looking for. It’s a new and different phase for them, which, if done right, could reap immediate benefits for an opposing team or two while Chicago gets what it wants: younger talent and flexibility.
“This was coming,” Epstein said. “It’s not like it was going to be one generation of players, and that’s it. We knew when a lot of our best players were cost-controlled, those were the years we could squeeze the most amount of talent on the roster, and there would be difficult decisions and change ahead at some point. We’re just rapidly approaching that time. That’s all.”
NL West offseason preview — Will anyone challenge Dodgers’ division dynasty?
With free agency underway, the offseason is going to pick up steam. What are the big questions facing all 30 teams?
We now turn to the NL West, where the Dodgers have a streak of consecutive titles going while the rest of the division ponders how to catch them.
2019 record: 106-56
2020 World Series odds: 5-1
The Dodgers have built a sustainable powerhouse largely through discipline. They excel in player development, focus on versatility, navigate toward youth and steer clear of the mega-contract. It’s an approach that has helped them win a major league-best 485 regular-season games since 2015 and has kept them on a path for continued dominance. The Dodgers could do nothing this offseason — literally nothing — and still field a roster capable of winning 90-plus games and capturing an eighth consecutive division title in 2020.
But, alas, that is not the ultimate goal.
The Dodgers are still in search of their first championship since 1988. They followed back-to-back World Series losses with a 106-win season in 2019, then suffered a gut-wrenching first-round elimination at the hands of the Washington Nationals. Now the Dodgers must ask themselves: Is their October misfortune the result of postseason randomness or do they need to construct their roster differently? Their depth is unparalleled, but do they need more high-end talent?
It would be overly simplistic to say they should just go after Gerrit Cole or Anthony Rendon. Cole fills their need for another top-of-the-rotation starter, but Andrew Friedman’s Dodgers don’t hand out nine-figure contracts to players nearing 30. Rendon is said to be interested in a short-term deal with a higher average annual value, which would be more appealing to Friedman. But the more likely route is the trade market. The Dodgers have the organizational depth to acquire virtually any player they choose, and they have shown a knack for creativity.
There’s no telling what they’ll do, but it seems as if a major shakeup could take place. — Alden Gonzalez
Arizona Diamondbacks: Are they ready to make a play for the crown?
2019 record: 85-77
2020 World Series odds: 60-1
Finishing above .500 again and earning a (distant) second-place finish in the division was a nice accomplishment for GM Mike Hazen in a season when he traded away both Paul Goldschmidt (before) and Zack Greinke (during). Three years in from inheriting an expensive mess, Arizona has never had a losing season on Hazen’s watch, and has the makings of a serious contender.
Whether or not Ketel Marte is the star the Diamondbacks can build around, his club-friendly extension through 2022 (with options for 2023 and 2024) makes it both an affordable proposition and something that gives them some freedom to hunt big game if they want to invest in a bid to win. Even after the Greinke trade, they’ve assembled a rotation they could win with, although 30-plus starts from Luke Weaver and a big season from Robbie Ray in his walk year, would put an exclamation point on the idea.
As a result, even with a stack of arbitration cases to deal with, Hazen could make some noise this winter. Whether that’s aiming to get a bat from the top end of the market or settling for a veteran addition or two like last winter’s signing of Adam Jones will tell us everything about how the D-backs see themselves. — Christina Kahrl
2019 record: 77-85
2020 World Series odds: 200-1
The Giants began July with 16 wins in their first 19 games, cutting their wild-card deficit to two games with the trade deadline only eight days away. It was perhaps the worst thing that could have happened to Farhan Zaidi, at that point only eight months into his role as president of baseball operations. The Giants were a fading team, their hot stretch notwithstanding, but Zaidi was new to a demanding market, with a Hall of Fame manager still in place. He couldn’t justify stripping the roster to shed salary and load up on prospects; instead, he kept most of the core group intact.
Zaidi now has a full year under his belt. He has his hand-picked manager, Gabe Kapler, and an entire season of proof that the Giants need, at the very least, a major retooling. Zaidi has shied away from the term “rebuild” when talking about his approach with this team, but his actions will tell the story. Will he let longtime ace Madison Bumgarner walk or try to re-sign him for a rotation with a clear need? Will he look to trade veterans such as Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija, Brandon Crawford and Brandon Belt, or try to put pieces around them?
The Giants have an aging roster, a top-heavy payroll and a clear need to build for the future. But this is a franchise that claimed three World Series championships in the 2010s, coming off a season that featured the lowest attendance in Oracle Park’s 20-year history. Zaidi has a tough balance to strike. — Gonzalez
2019 record: 71-91
2020 World Series odds: 100-1
For a team that won a wild card in 2017 and 2018 (losing the NL West to the Dodgers in a tiebreaker game), the Rockies enter the offseason with some big issues. The offense had just three regulars (plus the oft-injured David Dahl) post an OPS+ above league average. They finished fourth in the NL in runs but 13th in the NL in weighted runs created. The pitching may have been worse, even by Coors Field standards, as the Rockies allowed the most runs and ranked 12th in the NL in ERA+ and 14th in FanGraphs WAR.
The problem for GM Jeff Bridich: The Rockies are already almost right at their 2019 payroll level before any winter additions. Unless ownership spends more money — the Rockies are about $38 million below the tax threshold — the 2020 Rockies might look a lot like the 2019 Rockies. That means counting on Kyle Freeland to bounce back, the expensive but bad bullpen (Wade Davis, Jake McGee and Bryan Shaw will make a combined $35.5 million) to pitch better, and somebody — Peter Lambert? Jeff Hoffman? Chi Chi Gonzalez? — to step up behind German Marquez, Jon Gray and Freeland in the rotation. Getting a proven starter to come to Colorado is almost impossible, and they’ve probably been scarred from those bullpen signings. So how about an outfielder who can hit better than Ian Desmond or Raimel Tapia? — David Schoenfield
San Diego Padres: Can they become an instant contender?
2019 record: 70-92
2020 World Series odds: 50-1
The Padres stretched their budget to sign Eric Hosmer in February 2018, then really stretched it to sign Manny Machado 12 months later. Their top-ranked farm system has provided legitimate promise for the future, but the Padres don’t appear to be patient. They spent nearly $450 million on two free agents in back-to-back offseasons, then placed Chris Paddack and Fernando Tatis Jr. on their 2019 opening day roster, eschewing the appeal of gaining an extra year of service time with two budding stars. Those are the moves made by a team that wants to win, like, now.
To do that, A.J. Preller, now in his sixth offseason as the Padres’ general manager, has a lot of work ahead of him. He needs to acquire a proven, top-of-the-rotation starter to anchor an exceedingly young staff that will be headlined by Paddack and could eventually include rookies MacKenzie Gore and Luis Patino. And he needs to rebuild an outfield that managed only a .740 OPS this past season. The free-agent market could yield an ace. (Did you know Stephen Strasburg is from San Diego?) But first, Preller might need to unload at least some of the $61 million remaining on Wil Myers‘ contract — and then find a better replacement.
Padres executive chairman Ron Fowler, who hasn’t been shy about his desire to win next season, recently talked to the San Diego Union-Tribune about how the organization has moved past the prospect evaluation stage and is now looking at its younger players as “currency.” In other words, the Padres could once again be a fascinating, active team on the trade market. — Gonzalez
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