When several Major League Baseball teams slashed more than a hundred minor league players from their ranks this week, it created a wave of concern around the nation.
For the three minor league teams in Utah, though, it barely caused a ripple.
Rather than view the cuts as a harbinger of the loss of the 2020 season and, for some, the potential end of their ties to the MLB, representatives of the teams said it’s business as usual — just magnified in the unusual time of COVID-19.
“It would freak me out if it wasn’t normal,” Jeff Katofsky, owner of the Orem Owlz, said. “What isn’t normal is that it is being talked about.”
Salt Lake Bees President and General Manager Marc Amicone agreed. He said he didn’t have any details about who was being cut. Still, he said a sloughing of 20 to 30 players isn’t unusual for an MLB team this time of year.
MLB teams agreed in March to pay all their minor-league players $400 per week through May 31.
“The vast majority of these players are players that probably would have been cut at the end of spring training anyway,” he said.
The Arizona Diamondbacks released the most players, 64 in all. The Seattle Mariners let loose another roughly 50 players and the Mets 39. Most of the teams cut about 20 players, however, including the San Francisco Giants (20), the Boston Red Sox (22) and the Los Angeles Dodgers (22). The Ogden Raptors, a short-season Rookie Ball club, are affiliated with the Dodgers.
The Anaheim Angels, the team both the Owlz and the Bees are affiliated with, have not yet announced any player cuts. Last week, though, the team laid off most of its minor league staff, including coaches and scouts.
Amicone said those layoffs don’t directly affect the baseball operations of the Bees, a Triple-A team owned by Larry H. Miller Sport and Entertainment. LHMSE furloughed some Bees personnel earlier this month as a cost-cutting measure during the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19.
The players, Amicone and Katofsky both said, can be replaced with picks in the MLB Draft, which is scheduled for June 10-11. Whereas more recent drafts have been 40 rounds, this one will be just five. Yet teams will be able to select as many free agents as they can sway to fill their minor league rosters, if necessary. The only restriction is they can’t be signed for more than $20,000 (compared to a slot value of up to $300,000 for a sixth-round pick last year).
“By doing it this way, they cut their expenses in the draft,” Katofsky said.
Friday’s slew of MLB cuts were certainly another cost-saving measure. They were unusual because they were done en mass, rather than bringing in players one by one, but they also carried more weight. For one, unlike in other seasons, those players have no chance of being picked up by other teams right now. That could mean the end of careers as players retire or decide they can’t afford to pursue baseball as an occupation. Additionally, some see it as the smoke before the minor league season burns to the ground.
“It really is as dramatic as it sounds,” Jesse Rogers, an MLB reporter for ESPN, said in a Q and A about the cuts. “And the thought of some careers ending in this fashion is hard to fathom. Players don’t always get to go out on their own terms, but this takes things to another level.”
Careers may also end abruptly because less opportunity could exist for players next season. The MLB has proposed a contraction of the minor league system that would entail cutting 42 teams. That would include all short-season rookie-league baseball like that played in the Pioneer League, to which both the Owlz and Raptors belong.
The current agreement between MLB and MiLB expires in September. Without it, the MLB may opt to no longer send players to play for minor league teams and could potentially set up a separate farm system.
Those talks have been pushed aside, however, as MLB turns its attention to what it sees as a more pressing issue: Figuring out how to have a major league season amid a myriad of coronavirus restrictions and concerns. MLB was hoping to get spring training started in June with play starting in July. It sent the MLB Players Association a proposal with that timeline earlier this month and an economic plan Tuesday, but the two sides have yet to come to an agreement.
Until a plan for the 2020 MLB season is finalized, the minor league teams won’t know the fate of their own seasons. And even once that is decided, some still face uncertain futures.
So, for now they watch the turbulent seas and try not to get swept up in it all.
“We’re still being hopeful until somebody tells us we’re not going to play,” Amicone said, “but every day that goes by makes it more difficult.”