How the next Professional Baseball Agreement could impact Minor League Baseball teams in West Virginia

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INTRODUCTION

Minor League Baseball’s agreement with Major League Baseball, known as the Professional Baseball Agreement (PBA), is set to expire in September of 2020.

Negotiations are already underway – slightly earlier than normal – on the next PBA that will go into effect after the next MiLB season.

As we reported Tuesday, the new Professional Baseball Agreement has been said to be one that could potentially shakeup the current makeup of Minor League Baseball in a major way for the first time in 30 years.

“Really the last time we negotiated one with any major changes was 1990,” said Jeff Lantz MiLB Senior Director of Communications. “We’re going on close to 30 years with no major changes to the structure of Minor League Baseball, as the fans see it anyways.”

Lantz categorized the changes that could be coming that way because there have been changes to the game, of course, in the last 30 years.

But the new PBA could, as he said, have more significant changes than in years past.

“They’ve asked us to look into the restructuring of the Minor Leagues, the lower Minor Leagues in particular. The Carolina League, the South Atlantic League, maybe even the Midwest League, and try to find a better geographic fit for couple of teams,” Lantz said. “We’re looking at several options if we need to move teams around to different leagues.”

BETWEEN THE CURRENT AND NEXT PBAs

The MLB and MiLB are already taking a look at various proposals and ways to restructure the minor league levels.

Lantz noted that moving teams around to improve a league’s geographical footprint has been done in the past, and can be done again.

The West Virginia Black Bears moved to the Mountain State in 2015. (Photo by Ryan Decker / WBOY)

Maybe simply geographic realignments for the various leagues is the solution.

But Major League Baseball has a pair of major concerns – travel and ballparks.

The MLB wants its athletes to spend less time sleeping on the bus, and more time sleeping in hotels or their apartment where they can get recover better, and be better off physically for the next game, and seasons to come.

They are are looking at ballparks around the country, wanting their players to play in the best facilities possible.

As Lantz pointed out, big league clubs are investing a lot of money into the players that make up the minors.

He said they’re hoping to, “Get a solution and keep baseball in as many of those cities as we can.”

When it comes to those factors, and others, Lantz said, “We’re looking to address those and try and save as many of the 160 minor league teams as we can.”

WEST VIRGINIA IMPACT

There are currently four Minor League Baseball teams in West Virginia – the Bluefield Blue Jays (Rookie, Blue Jays), Princeton Rays (Rookie, Rays) West Virginia Black Bears (Short Season, Pirates), and West Virginia Power (Class-A, Mariners).

Minor League Baseball, among those four teams, dates back to 1910, meaning that for more than 100 years pro baseball players have been groomed in the Mountain State. The Black Bears are the state’s newest team, moving to Granville in 2015.

The Black Bears have averaged just over 2,000 fans per game at Monongalia County Ballpark. (Photo by Ryan Decker / WBOY)

One of the proposals to a new PBA includes the removal of roughly 42 Minor League Clubs.

As Lantz said in our conversation Tuesday, the teams in the lower level leagues, like the Rookie and short-season leagues, are the teams rumored to be on the chopping block in that proposal.

With other factors involved, such as geography, stadium quality, team revenue, etc., there is the possibility that when the new PBA is signed Minor League Baseball would no longer exist in the Mountain State.

But Lantz cautions that shouldn’t be too large of a concern for fans.

“I would be very surprised if there no teams in West Virginia,” he said. “We’re going to do everything to save all four of them in the same cities that they’re in. That’s our goal, and that’s what we’re hoping to do.”

Geography is one of the things Lantz pointed out directly in the case of the South Atlantic League that the Power play in, with teams ranging from as far south as Augusta, South Carolina, and as far north as New Jersey.

“That’s quite a footprint for a Minor League, where you’re riding the bus everywhere,” Lantz said.

But again, it could come down to simple league reassignment from a geographical point of view.

BLACK BEARS SPECIFICS

When asked about the Black Bears, Lantz was quick to point out that Monongalia County Ballpark is “top notch.”

He also said they are in the footprint of a few leagues, including the New York-Penn League and South Atlantic League. Of course, if the Black Bears were moved to the South Atlantic League (for example) they would then become a full season club.

One potential complication if West Virginia received a bump up in the level of league that they play in within the MiLB system, is scheduling since the team shares the stadium with the West Virginia University Mountaineers.

However, WVU and the Black Bears aren’t unique in that regard. Oregon State’s baseball team shares its park with the Eugene Emeralds, a short-season affiliate of the Cubs.

TIMING

Negotiating teams are scheduled to be getting together later this month. The current PBA runs through September of 2020, so none of the changes will impact the upcoming MiLB season.

Any changes agreed to in the upcoming Professional Baseball Agreement would take affect with the 2021 season.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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