Minor league schedules out, and quirky due to COVID-19

BB&T Ballpark in Winston-Salem (Jim Margalus)

Once Major League Baseball established each of its teams minor league affiliates, it could establish the realigned leagues. Once it established the realigned leagues, it could construct and unveil the schedules.

Said schedules are out today, and they look different than ever. They have some variations across the board, but they all share a few new wrinkles:

*Six-game series: In order to reduce travel, all teams are playing one opponent a week.

*Limited opponents: Keeping with the themes of easier travel and reduced intermingling, most teams will only see a portion of the league.

*Mondays off: All the blank dates down the second column of the calendars brings back fond memories of Saratoga Race Course’s dark days on Tuesdays. Foreign, yet familiar.

*Uneven games: Triple-A teams are scheduled to start on April 6-8 and play 142 games, while the other three leagues will start in the first week of May and play 120.

So what does this mean for each affiliate? Let’s explore.

CHARLOTTE KNIGHTS

While the former International League expanded to 20 teams, roping in Chicagoland’s closest Triple-A affiliates, the benefits won’t be reaped in 2021. The Knights are limited to Southeast Division opponents, and not even all of them. They won’t play Memphis once, but they will play a whopping 42 games against the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp.

The Knights won’t visit Indianapolis or Iowa this year. They will play one week in Nashville, though, which is great news for me.

BIRMINGHAM BARONS

Thanks to their central location in the largely intact remnants of the Southern League, the Barons have the most normal looking schedule of the bunch. Although their schedule favors their Northern Division rivals, they will play at least one home series and one away series against each of the Southern Division teams, with some extra games against the Montgomery Biscuits to fill in the calendar.

WINSTON-SALEM DASH

The Dash get to host the Hudson Valley Renegades, the northernmost team in the High-A East, but they don’t have to make a return trip to Wappingers Falls. They’ll only travel as far north as the Jersey Shore for a week, which the rest of the travel fairly contained for an otherwise sprawling league.

They will have to make the long trip west to Bowling Green, which is an hour away from Nashville. Again, great for me.

KANNAPOLIS CANNON BALLERS

After losing the entirety of their first inaugural season as the Cannon Ballers in their new park, Kannapolis gets to open the season at home. They’ll play most of the 12-team Low-A East, with only Myrtle Beach and Delmarva not on the schedule.

WHAT’S NEXT

Before the leagues can get underway with fans in the stands, the players first need to make it through both spring trainings. Triple-A will get its roster ready earlier, but it faces an initial one-two punch of an early start (less time for vaccinations to increase) and farther travel (especially in the former PCL, which requires flights).

The lower leagues will have to wait for their players to make it through the second spring training in April, after which they’ll have to see whether it makes economic sense to play. Baseball America broke down the numbers and talked to clubs, and they said teams will need 20-25 percent capacity before it even starts to make sense to have fans at all.

ADJACENT NOTE

I’ve been waiting for Baseball Prospectus’ farewell tour of the forgotten minor league affiliates to reach the Tri-City ValleyCats in my former home of Troy, N.Y., and it’s finally here. It’s heartwarming, because it traces the Capital Region’s baseball roots all the way back to the Troy Haymakers. It’s also heartbreaking, because it highlights Rob Manfred’s heartlessness:

The following month, Bill [Gladstone]’s son Doug, the owner of the ValleyCats, received an email from MLB commissioner Rob Manfred. Manfred passed along his condolences to Doug on the loss of his father. Words cannot bring a loved one back. It doesn’t make words empty. It was nice of Manfred, a typically busy fellow, to reach out.

But he made a big mistake. He wrote more words, which resulted in the negation of the sentiment of his previous words. He allegedly used the word “unwise,” as in, it would be “unwise” for the ValleyCats to publicly talk about the minor league contraction plan.

Those might be expensive words. After the ValleyCats were unexpectedly left without any connection to Major League Baseball, they sued, looking for at least $15 million. Most of that money has to do with their entire business model being based on fielding professional prospects, which they cannot do anymore.

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asinwreck

While I’m sad the Dash won’t make it to Brooklyn this year, I like the week-long series format. Reminds me of cricket.

Oddvark

The lower leagues will have to wait for their players to make it through the second spring training in April, after which they’ll have to see whether it makes economic sense to play.

What does this mean? Could minor league teams decide not to play for economic reasons?

asinwreck

Oddvark

So they at least have to decide whether to allow fans or not when they play, based on the economics of it.

But there still seems to be some suggestion that they might not play at all. The quoted tweet says “Opening Day … is by no means no sure thing.” And the part of the Baseball America story that I can see without a subscription says “there remain many detours that could keep teams from playing any time soon.” Maybe the possibilty that they might not play at all is tied to local regulations rather than financial decisions?

Oddvark

Thanks!

Eagle Bones

This is completely unrealistic, but it sure would be nice if the league / MLB owners stepped in to help them considering they (MiLB teams) actually have real financial problems (unlike the MLB owners with their “problems”). I’m guessing most MLB owners probably look at the minor leagues as an unnecessary luxury of some kind and something that could be easily tossed aside if it caused them any financial pain.

Last edited 3 years ago by Eagle Bones
GrinnellSteve

The alternate site set-up from last year probably tells them they can go it without the minors if necessary. If those minors owners don’t like it, they should make billions and go buy a major league team.

GrinnellSteve

Normally the Iowa Cubs block off the last 10 days of July so the Iowa High School state tournament can be played. The PCL would work with them. It’s a big thrill for the kids to play on a AAA field. This year, with MLB dictating things, the I-Cubs are home for some of that time. There’s a real take-it-or-leave-it vibe to this whole thing. At least with the pandemic-related scheduling considerations listed above, I can cut them a tiny bit of slack. Still, they could have made it work if MLB cared.

A few years ago I got to do the PA for a game our high school played at Principal Park. It was the first and only time I called a high school game since my stroke. It was a sweet set up, and with a full crew up there, I only had to handle the mic. It’s one of my fondest memories.

HouseOfTheRisingSox

That Jumbo Shrimp rivalry is going to be epic. I couldn’t imagine beating a team 20 times and still losing the season series.

shaggy65

That schedule is just flat-out dumb. Playing the same teams over and over is barely a step up from the AAA players being stashed at an “alternate site” all year.

Willardmarshall

A couple of unappreciated HBPs could make for a long season….

Steve

One big outcome of these changes is the ability of players to continue their education. Many players that aren’t headed to the majors, head back to school since the minor league schedules usually end at Labor Day. Not ideal for some schools, but, if you have some flexible professors, you’ll get by.

Now, with these schedules extending way into September, there’s little chance for these players to continue with school unless they go fully online.