Minor League Sports

Cedar Rapids Kernels halve staff in another sign there will be no 2020 minor league baseball season

Could this be it in affiliated baseball for local ballclub?

Baseball fans walk in to Veterans Memorial Stadium for a
Baseball fans walk in to Veterans Memorial Stadium for a “NoOn Game” event hosted by the Kernels in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, May 20, 2020. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — There will not be a 2020 minor league baseball season.

No, that’s not official. An announcement has yet to come from Major League Baseball and/or Minor League Baseball.

But this is a done deal. It’s already June, no games have been played and plenty of other indicators are out there.

The latest one came Monday when the Cedar Rapids Kernels announced half their staff, seven people, had been laid off.

“This move was made assuming there will not be a season,” said a weary Kernels CEO Doug Nelson. “We are looking at all options, have put together a financial plan for moving forward. Step one of that plan is to eliminate costs as much as possible.”

So there it is. If Nelson doesn’t think a season will happen, a season is not going to happen.

This is a devastating blow financially for the locally owned ballclub, which is run as a non-profit business, though it technically is not one. The Kernels were seeking a big Midwest League season, a rebound in attendance that would cement they would remain an affiliated minor league club.

MLB and MiLB are negotiating terms of a working agreement that expires after this season. Or rather this non-season.

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It’s no secret there will be significant minor league contraction, likely more than 40 cities losing their franchises by the time it’s all said and done, as MLB seeks to streamline its minor leagues. There will be fewer players in each club’s farm system, thus fewer affiliates required.

Rookie leagues, other than the two played at MLB-owned complexes in Florida and Arizona, are assumed to be axed, though some cities in those leagues (the Northwest, Pioneer and Appalachian) theoretically could survive as a part of another league at another level.

Specifications for all MiLB ballparks are expected to be increased. For example, late last season the parent Minnesota Twins requested to the Kernels they provide a larger home clubhouse space and added batting cages at Veterans Memorial Stadium.

That is just more added money Cedar Rapids must find to remain in affiliated baseball.

The biggest question is which cities will be on the losing end here. Lists have been floated around and remain fluid, according to reports.

Nelson expressed optimism the Kernels will be able to survive the COVID-19 pandemic financially, saying they expect to ready for opening day April 2021. He was asked if that meant Cedar Rapids would remain in affiliated baseball.

“We’re certainly hopeful that we will be an affiliated minor league club,” Nelson said. “But there has been no official word from Major League Baseball that we will be one.”

Cedar Rapids does have a good relationship with the Twins, which would seem to be a big positive, especially if it can make ballpark improvements. In the new MLB/MiLB working agreement, whenever it comes, MLB teams will have increased power in determining their affiliates at all levels (Triple-A, Double-A, high-Class A and low-Class A), thus have a big influence on which minor league clubs survive and which do not.

Another sign there will be no 2020 MiLB season came last week, when some major league clubs announced furloughs for their scouts and minor league staffs. Hundreds of minor league players also were released last week, including 50-plus by some major league clubs, yet another indicator of no MiLB season.

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The Twins and Kansas City Royals, meanwhile, became outliers in announcing they would not release any of their minor leaguers, extending them pay and benefits through August. Former Kernels applauded the move.

“I’m blessed enough to still be here and have a job,” said Trey Cabbage, who played the entire 2018 season in Cedar Rapids, as well as parts of the 2017 and 2019 seasons. “I think it’s great that the Twins have stuck their necks out there for us in this time. I wish it was league wide, to help all players, but each team is handling it their own way. I’m just ready to have this all over with and get back to playing.”

“I’m extremely blessed and grateful to be a part of an organization that preaches culture and values, and truly lives up to them,” said Austin Schulfer, who pitched last season for the Kernels. “It saddens me that other teams are cutting players, but these are tough times for everyone and uncharted waters for all of us.”

Comments: (319) 398-8259; jeff.johnson@thegazette.com

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