For many baseball fans across the nation, the ongoing negotiations between Major and Minor League Baseball have left more questions than answers over the past several months. Talk of teams facing elimination, geographic realignment, affiliation changes, and new standards and requirements have been frequent on baseball news sites, leading many Pensacola fans to reach out wondering how it may impact operations at Blue Wahoos Stadium and what changes they can expect to see.
Below, find some of the key questions fans have asked about the negotiations between Major and Minor League Baseball and their possible effects on the Blue Wahoos. Keep in mind that this is by no means a comprehensive list of possible changes and that it is based on current publicly available reporting--much may change as negotiations continue.
Fans interested in taking a deeper dive into the negotiations should read Baseball America's article "MLB Lays Out Proposal To Run Minor League Baseball" by J.J. Cooper (subscription required).
- Fan Question: Why are things changing now?
For the past 117 years, an independent contractual agreement existed between Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball. It has been renegotiated and renewed many, many times over those years, but the overall structure hasn't changed dramatically. For the duration, Major and Minor League Baseball have been two different organizations that work together to make Minor League games happen. Each has maintained separate league offices and presidents.
That may soon change.
In what amounts to a seismic occurrence affecting future operations of professional baseball, the long-standing Professional Baseball Agreement (PBA), which connected the two entities, is set to expire Wednesday and the contract has not been renewed.
The two entities are negotiating a new deal that is likely to dramatically change the structure and format of Minor League Baseball, removing the separation between the two organizations and bringing Minor League teams directly under the control of Major League Baseball.
- Fan Question: Will there be less Minor League teams?
In a move to better align, become more efficient, and cut costs, numerous Minor League teams may lose their affiliation. Currently, it is expected that 42 of the 160 MiLB teams will no longer receive Major League affiliations, leaving the Minor Leagues with a total of 120 teams split across four levels. A few perspective lists have been published identifying teams that may no longer have an affiliation, however, Pensacola has never appeared on any list and fans have no reason to worry about the Blue Wahoos facing elimination.
As part of this realignment, it is likely that teams--and possibly even entire leagues--will be reclassified to new levels. The Southern League should remain a Double-A league and the Blue Wahoos should remain as a Double-A affiliate. However, changes to the teams and number of teams in the Southern League are likely to occur.
- Fan Question: Will Pensacola change affiliations?
For years, affiliations between Major and Minor League teams have been a negotiation in which both sides have input. Previously, Major and Minor League teams would agree to Player Development Contact, usually for 2 or 4 years, and at the end of the contract, choose to either renew or look for a new match. That happened with the Blue Wahoos in 2019. After 8 seasons as an affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds, the Player Development Contract between the two teams expired and the Blue Wahoos considered multiple different Major League options before deciding to sign a new contract with the Minnesota Twins.
That system, in which both the Major or Minor League team can choose to leave and look for a new affiliate at the end of their PDC, led to frequent changing of affiliations across the country. It also led to some inopportune matches. Currently, the Washington Nationals on the east coast are affiliated with the west coast Fresno Grizzlies at the Triple-A level, meaning that every time they want to call a prospect up to the Major Leagues, the prospect has to fly from California to Washington D.C.
To avoid frequent changing of affiliations, create continuity between Major and Minor League organizations, and ensure that affiliations make geographic sense, it's very likely in the new deal that Major League Baseball will simply assign all affiliations (and call them 'licenses') in the future. It's also likely that those deals will be for much longer lengths, likely 10 years, instead of the standard two or four year deals.
That may mean that the Blue Wahoos Major League affiliate will change. For the past two years, the Blue Wahoos have enjoyed a great partnership with the Minnesota Twins that has led to great prospects playing for the Blue Wahoos, a strong business relationship between the two teams, and off-the-field community outreach by the Twins in Pensacola (the franchise recently donated $10,000 to the United Way of West Florida to help with hurricane recovery in Pensacola). While the Blue Wahoos are looking forward to many more productive seasons as a Twins affiliate, it is possible that Major League Baseball assigns a new affiliate to Pensacola.
- Fan Question: Will Blue Wahoos Stadium change?
In previous PBAs, Major League Baseball has set standards for the player amenities at Minor League Ballparks and for MiLB players. Those have included ensuring that the clubhouses at the stadium are well kept and clean, that appropriate weight room facilities and batting cages are available, and that the hotels that the players stay in and the buses they travel on are comfortable. However, those standards have not been updated for decades. It is very likely that a new agreement sets new standards and requirements for Minor League teams to provide to ensure that their stadiums are great places for players to play and develop.
Blue Wahoos Stadium is well-regarded as a first class facility in Minor League Baseball. Leading up to what would have been the 2020 season, the team invested nearly $500,000 to renovate and improve the home clubhouse at Blue Wahoos Stadium in anticipation of increased standards. However, going forward, upgrades to the team's visiting clubhouse and batting cage may be necessary, as will constructing locker rooms for female player development staff and improvements to the stadium's video capabilities.
While fans may never see those changes from the stands, they will be very important for the future of the Blue Wahoos. While affiliation agreements will be longer than before, teams whose stadiums are not up to standard will likely be given shorter provisional licenses, giving them a set number of years to bring their stadium up to standard. If improvements to the ballpark are not made by the end of the provisional contract, the team will be at risk of losing their affiliation and being replaced as a Minor League team.
Currently, Major League teams are not allowed to help with any ballpark renovations at Minor League stadiums. It is likely in a new system that that will change and Major League teams will be able to contribute to capital improvements at their Minor League affiliate's stadiums, helping ensure that their players have the facilities they need for the length of new long term relationships with their MiLB teams.
- Fan Question: When will we get the 2021 Blue Wahoos schedule?
Under the current system, each individual minor league is in charge of setting the schedules for their teams. That means the Southern League chooses the schedule for the teams in the Southern League, the Florida State League sets the schedule for the teams in the Florida State League, the Eastern League picks game dates for the teams in the Eastern League, and so on. This system does give individual teams some flexibility, as teams are often included in the process and can advocate for themselves (for example, after many years of not having one, the Blue Wahoos were able to secure a 4th of July home game in 2020 through negotiating schedules with other teams in the league). While flexibility and the ability to give scheduling input is good for teams, having each league set their own schedule has led to differences and inefficiencies across Minor League baseball as a whole--the Southern League plays 5 game series, the Florida State League plays 3 game series, etc.
In the new deal, it is very likely that Major League Baseball will take over all Minor League scheduling and a standard format will be adopted by all leagues across the country (i.e. every league will play 5-game series).
While this likely won't cause many changes for Blue Wahoos fans, it is also possible that the number of games in the season are changed. It's possible the Minor League season is shortened. It's possible that the Minor League season remains at 140 games, but is stretched over an additional month to allow players more off days. It's possible that All-Star games and playoffs are eliminated to allowed for more off days. Currently, little is known about the Blue Wahoos 2021 season schedule and no timeline has been set for that information to be supplied to teams and fans.
To answer the original question: With those likely changes still being ironed out, the Blue Wahoos won't have a schedule for the 2021 season until a new deal is agreed to between Major and Minor League Baseball. Currently, no timeline has been given to when 2021 schedules will be released.
- Fan Question: Will the Minor League Baseball office still be in Florida?
With Major League Baseball likely taking over assigning affiliations and scheduling, individual league offices and the Minor League offices in St. Petersburg, FL. may no longer be viewed as necessary. Major League Baseball may simply absorb the duties of the league offices. While the Blue Wahoos will likely remain part of the Southern League, the 'Southern League' itself might exist in name alone with no league headquarters, president, or staff.
- Fan Question: How will the new deal help the Blue Wahoos?
It's likely that Major League Baseball will assist Minor League teams with national sponsorship deals, marketing, and broadcast rights in the future.
Currently, individual teams, leagues, and Minor League Baseball itself sell sponsorships and market Minor League teams. However, the system has never been cohesive or strong on a national scale. Some leagues secure better sponsorship deals for their teams or have larger territorial reaches geographically. It is likely under the new deal that Minor League teams will be granted 'licenses' as Major League Baseball partners and will receive support with sponsorship, marketing, and digital sales through Major League Baseball's strong network. Many are optimistic that this will help raise revenue and cut costs for the existing 120 Minor League teams, but little is known publicly about what this will look like in practice or what changes fans should look forward to.
It is also likely that Major League Baseball will establish a "Best Practices" training program, allowing Minor League teams to directly collaborate, share successful event plans, and more strategically bring the best ideas to fans across the nation.
- Fan Question: Will Minor League players be paid more?
Much has been reported about the meager salaries some Minor League players receive during the season. It is expected that player salaries will be increased under the new agreement. However, the obvious caveat with 42 teams being eliminated is that there will simply be less players as there will be less teams.
Salaries for Minor League players and coaches are paid by the Major League affiliate. Blue Wahoos players receive their paychecks from the Minnesota Twins, not the Pensacola Blue Wahoos. That will not change under a new system.
- Fan Question: What happens to the teams that get 'eliminated'?
Major League Baseball has pledged that baseball will continue to be available in the communities of all 42 eliminated MInor League franchises. New collegiate showcase league or independent leagues may be formed to incorporate those teams or those teams may become part of existing independent or college leagues. This week, Major League Baseball announced that the Appalachian League, a longtime Rookie-level Minor League, will become a collegiate summer league starting next year. Major League Baseball also has recently designated that the independent Frontier League, American Association, and Atlantic League as "Partner Leagues" of Major League Baseball, which may make it easier for eliminated teams to find a new home in indie baseball. However, joining a college or independent league may not make financial sense for many teams, as those leagues often play fewer games and generate less profit than being a Minor League team.