No Bees, Raptors or Owlz: Minor League Baseball cancels its 2020 season

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Smith's Ballpark in Salt Lake City on Saturday, April 18, 2020.

No minor league baseball will be played in 2020.

Minor League Baseball announced Tuesday afternoon that Major League Baseball will not be providing affiliate teams with players this year. Without the players, there can be no season, according to the terms of their current Professional Baseball Agreement.

In Utah, the announcement affects the Salt Lake Bees, the Orem Owlz and the Ogden Raptors. It will be the first time since the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues was founded in 1901 that no minor league season will be played, according to a statement released by MiLB.

“While the Salt Lake Bees are disheartened for our community by the cancellation of the 2020 season, we understand today’s decision and believe public health and safety certainly take precedence during the coronavirus pandemic,” Marc Amicone, president and general manager of the Bees, said in a press statement. “Minor league baseball has been part of summertime in Salt Lake City for more than a century, and we will miss the opportunity to gather at Smith’s Ballpark for America’s pastime in one of baseball’s most beautiful settings.”

The long-expected announcement comes a week after MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred unilaterally imposed a 60-game schedule beginning July 23. Manfred made that move June 22 after MLB and the MLB Players Association agreed on an operations manual for a season shortened by COVID-19. The sides could not come to a financial agreement, however, which opens the league up to a grievance that could seek hundreds of millions of dollars, according to Associated Press baseball writer Ronald Blum.

“While this is a sad day for many,” MiLB President and CEO Pat O’Conner said in the statement, “this announcement removes the uncertainty surrounding the 2020 season and allows our teams to begin planning for an exciting 2021 season of affordable family entertainment.”

Not all teams will necessarily be operating in the same way in 2021, however, even if the virus is contained. 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.

Even if the sides do agree to send players, the MLB has proffered cutting 42 teams from the minor league system. That includes the Owlz and the Raptors of the Pioneer League, a short-season rookie league. If they are cut from MLB, the Pioneer League could still exist as a “Dream League” for undrafted players with a franchise-like arrangement with major league clubs.

Owners of both the Owlz and Raptors have repeatedly said they will have baseball in their stadiums in 2021.

Yet, even the Bees, the Triple-A affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels, likely won’t see players before that.

Active rosters for MLB teams will not exceed 30 players during the shortened season. With the cancellation of the minor league season, however, teams will be allowed up to 60 players on a taxi squad. Three of those players, one of which must be a catcher, can travel with the team.

Amicone told The Tribune last month that he does not expect to see the taxi squad in Salt Lake City.

“My suspicion is that we would be separate from that,” he said. “The additional 20 or so they’re keeping as a practice squad with the major league club would stay with the team. They would keep them close by and just work them out with the team.”