As baseball is sitting in limbo, the discussion between MLB and MiLB is back in action and the future of minor league teams, even those affiliated with the Baltimore Orioles is in question.
Back in 2019, MLB proposed a contraction of minor league teams, including the Baltimore Orioles own Class A Frederick Keys. The original goal was to reduce the large minor league system down to 120 teams.
In an article by Dave Sheinin in The Washington Post, Dave Ziedelis, the GM of the Single-A Keys said: “We’ve been an Orioles affiliate since Day 1 — since we started in 1989. I don’t think we could remain viable under [the Dream League] model. Our fans are used to seeing the Manny Machados and Matt Wieterses and Zack Brittons.”
In many communities, minor league baseball is an important part. Teams have worked hard to create a product that draws fans into the stadiums on a nightly basis. The idea is that the 42 teams that were cut from the official minor league system would form their own “Dream League” where they would compete against each other. Eventually, the players in the Dream League could move on and join the official MLB minor league system.
If the contraction happens, the smaller grouping of teams would also reduce the number of players drafted in the summer. Currently, there are 40 rounds in the MLB draft, and the plan would be to reduce those to 20 or 25. The draft has already been reduced throughout the years. Over the years, several outstanding players were drafted after the 25th round has passed.
With no foreseeable start in the future, minor league teams are struggling financially. In an article by J.J. Cooper with Baseball America, the financial struggle seems to be bringing minor league teams to the table. MLB and MiLB decision makers are meeting today to continue their discussion about the contraction.
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If the contraction happens, the Dream League would become a reality. It means that fans will have to become devout in supporting their local teams, otherwise, they could quickly go under. The Dream League teams would have to find their own undrafted players.
The Orioles minor league affiliates is unique to the MLB. Nearly all teams are close to Baltimore, so fans get to see their future Orioles close up and at low ticket prices. This is not the case with many other teams. Consider the Los Angeles Dodgers, who have a Single-A affiliate in Michigan. Their Triple-A team is in Oklahoma City. The Miami Marlins Triple-A affiliate is in Wichita, Kansas.
It doesn’t look good for the Frederick Keys remaining an affiliate for the Orioles. Just a few short years ago in 2017, several names that Orioles fans recognize were on the Single-A roster: Anthony Santander, Austin Hays, Stevie Wilkerson, and Ryan Mountcastle. MLB players occasionally return to that team for rehab assignments, and in 2017 fans got to see Chris Davis and Zach Britton.
It’s only an hour drive from Baltimore to Frederick, but for the players who have populated the rosters on the Keys team, that drive is meaningful. If the MLB has its way, that drive will never be the same for the young players and the veterans, alike.