Minor League Sports

Will Cedar Rapids Kernels be affected as MLB seeks to eliminate some minor league teams?

Contract with Minnesota Twins expires after 2020 season, as does national contract between MLB, MiLB

A sign hangs over the exit to the stadium during a baseball game at Veteran’s Memorial Stadium in Cedar Rapids on Monday, Sep. 9, 2019. (David Harmantas/Freelance)
A sign hangs over the exit to the stadium during a baseball game at Veteran’s Memorial Stadium in Cedar Rapids on Monday, Sep. 9, 2019. (David Harmantas/Freelance)

CEDAR RAPIDS — The Cedar Rapids Kernels’ Player Development Contract with the Minnesota Twins expires after the upcoming 2020 season.

Will the Twins stay after that? If not, which major league team would come in here?

Apparently the most appropriate question now is WILL a major league team come in here? Baseball America reported Friday that Major League Baseball is seeking to drastically alter the minor leagues, including perhaps reducing the number of teams from 160 to 120 beginning with the 2021 season.

That reduction would not include the Rookie-level complex leagues in Arizona and Florida, which MLB franchises own. It’s anyone’s guess at this point which ballclubs would be on the chopping block, or if one of them would be Cedar Rapids.

The Professional Baseball Agreement between MLB and MiLB expires after the 2020 season and the sides are poised to negotiate a new one.

“From the perspective of MLB clubs, our principal goals are upgrading the minor league facilities that we believe have inadequate standards for potential MLB players,” MLB deputy commissioner Dan Halem told Baseball America reporter J.J. Cooper. “Improving the working conditions for MiLB players, including their compensation, improving transportation and hotel accommodations, providing better geographic affiliations between major league clubs and their affiliates, as well as better geographic lineups of leagues to reduce player travel.”

Veterans Memorial Stadium meets ballpark specifications in the current PBA, but it’s obvious the new one will include different and stronger requirements. Baseball America reported that MLB considers one-quarter of minor league facilities currently to be “inadequate.”

The Twins have told the Kernels, for instance, they would require a larger home clubhouse since their coaching staffs and number of roving instructors have increased the past couple of seasons. Cedar Rapids had seven coaches this past season, including a trainer and strength and conditioning coach.

A video room also is on the Twins’ demands list, as are multiple batting cages at the stadium. There is currently one.

Things like that are likely to be requirements for all minor league affiliates moving forward.

“Sorry, but I am not in a position to comment,” Kernels CEO Doug Nelson said Friday afternoon in a text message. “All discussions have been between the MLB and MiLB office. We have not been involved or updated.”

Baseball America reported it is likely that leagues will both increase and decrease in size beginning in 2021, as MLB clubs seek to have better geographic setups for their affiliates. One of the final straws that way likely came this past season when the Washington Nationals were forced to have a Triple-A affiliate in Fresno, Calif., because no other affiliates remained.

MLB’s travel concerns for its minor leaguers seems to indicate the 16-team Midwest League likely will be decreased in size, if it continues. The far-flung league’s western-most team is Cedar Rapids, its northern-most team Wisconsin (Appleton), its southern-most team Bowling Green (Ky.) and its eastern-most team Lake County (suburban Cleveland).

Market sizes between the two divisions also are very different, with Dayton leading the league this past season in attendance (7,900 per game) and Burlington last (1,053). Burlington is the smallest full-season market in the country.

Baseball America reported that teams would end up changing levels in MLB’s initial PBA proposal, including teams jumping from Class A to Triple-A. Dayton presumably would be one of those.

The proposal also would bring independent league teams in St. Paul, Minn., and Sugar Land, Texas, to affiliated baseball. The length of the new PBA is expected to be only five years in length, with another round of “cuts” coming at its conclusion, BA reported.

If somehow Cedar Rapids were to lose an affiliated team, after this coming season or in five years, its options would be to join an independent league, such as the American Association (Sioux City is a member) or Frontier League. Or perhaps join the summer collegiate Northwoods League.

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MLB has proposed a “Dream League” for minor league teams that end up losing MLB affiliations, for players that hope to get into affiliated baseball. It also has prosposed decreasing the annual draft from 40 rounds to 25 rounds and holding it in August.

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

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