The Cincinnati Reds extended development licenses to four minor league baseball teams today, and those four teams are the same ones that you’re used to. While some teams saw plenty of switching of affiliates, the Reds are looking to keep the Louisville Bats, Chattanooga Lookouts, Dayton Dragons, and Daytona Tortugas in their chain. We need to be sure to note that while those teams have been offered a development license that it does not mean that they will accept it.
If you’re confused by that, and you probably should be, let’s break it down a little bit. Despite negotiations that have been going on for nearly a year-and-a-half, Major League Baseball is cutting out non-complex level rookie ball and keeping 120 teams beyond the complex level each organization has at their spring training site – but even today, with these announcements, not a single minor league franchise has actually signed a contract to say yes. The Billings Mustangs and the Greeneville Reds are gone from the Reds development chain. The Mustangs are now an independent league “MLB Partner” team, while the Greeneville franchise is becoming a college wooden bat summer “draft league”.
Major League Baseball is announcing these affiliation offers today before they’ve even allowed a team being offered said affiliation license a chance to even read the terms that are being offered to them. It is expected that teams will agree to them, but there’s some hesitation among minor league team owners – as they should be. This puts the pressure directly on the teams to accept it, or otherwise they and not MLB, will appear to now be the bad guy. MLB caught a lot of bad publicity when they announced they were cutting teams, but then said they would work with the cities/teams that would be cut to keep baseball in their town. Some of that was to create college summer leagues. Some of that was to place them into independent leagues as “MLB Partner Leagues”.
One team in particular, Fresno – which had been a Triple-A team – was offered a chance to move to Low-A in the California League (this was previously an Advanced-A League) and become the Colorado Rockies affiliate. Fresno has said no. That currently leaves the Rockies without a Low-A franchise as things continue to be discussed.
So why did MLB want to cut teams and rearrange both affiliations and leagues? Well, they claim publicly that they wanted better facility standards, less travel, and a few other benefits for the players. Those things are all true. Some of the travel was not conducive at all to getting the most out of professional athletes (and just to point out that this isn’t like the Major Leagues – some of the hotels minor leaguers stay in would definitely qualify as a roach motel). And some of the facilities (ballparks) are incredibly outdated.
But what is more likely happening here is that this is mostly about money. After years of pressure to raise the pay for minor leaguers, who would make somewhere between $3,000-10,000 a year depending on which level they were playing at, the teams caved in and have raised the pay for the 2021 season (and future seasons). But by cutting teams out in the lower levels, the overall increase in minor league pay barely moves – the overall budget is just handed out to fewer people while staying mostly the same. Those players that remain get raises, but the there simply aren’t nearly as many jobs.
Getting back to the Cincinnati Reds and their teams, everyone knows what they are getting into with these relationships since they’ve already had them. With the takeover of minor league baseball, MLB has new facility standards that must be met in the next few years. One of the reasons that both the Chattanooga Lookouts and the Daytona Tortugas were on the initial “cut list” that was leaked in November of 2019 was that their facilities weren’t “up to par”. While the new facility standards are expected to be such that nearly every minor league stadium will need to make some improvements and changes, those two organizations are likely looking at larger upgrades than many others.
All of the Reds affiliates, assuming all four teams accept the license agreement, will remain on the east coast and in the same time zone. The big change is that the Dayton Dragons will now be the Cincinnati Reds Advanced-A affiliate, while the Daytona Tortugas will now be the team’s Low-A affiliate. Here’s how the overall hierarchy will work:
- Rookie: Dominican Summer League Reds
- Rookie: Arizona League Reds
- Low-A: Daytona Tortugas
- Advanced-A: Dayton Dragons
- Double-A: Chattanooga Lookouts
- Triple-A: Louisville Bats
The Florida State League and the Midwest League (at least the teams that remain in those leagues – some teams in each did not get extended licenses) are swapping levels. The FSL was once an Advanced-A league, and it’s moving down a level, while the Midwest League was formerly a Low-A league and is being bumped up a classification.
If you’d like to see how all of the minor league affiliations changed and worked out, Baseball America has the entire breakdown of who is now where. You do, however, need a subscription to see everything.