Chukars might be cut from minor league in 2021
Published at | Updated at
IDAHO FALLS — Rooting for the home team might no longer be an option in Idaho Falls if Major League Baseball gets its way.
The MLB is considering a reorganization of the minor leagues, and possibly cutting 42 minor league teams at the start of the 2021 season. Among those teams are the defending 2019 Pioneer League Champions and Kansas City Royal affiliates — the Idaho Falls Chukars.
“People are freaking out and nervous about the future of their team,” said Jeff Lantz, Minor League Baseball senior director of communications. “We understand that, and we can guarantee you that we’re doing everything in our power to save baseball in as many of the 160 markets as we possibly can.”
The Professional Baseball Agreement (PBA) between the major and minor leagues expires at the end of the 2020 season, which means that if this proposal is adopted, those 42 teams won’t be around beginning in 2021. The PBA is a bond between the major and minor leagues. It guarantees that major league baseball will help field at least 160 minor league teams while the contract is in full swing.
“The PBA is usually a deal that’s rolled over every fifth year with maybe some minor changes,” Lantz said. “But Major League Baseball wanted to see some changes made, and they sent us a proposal. It was a rather drastic proposal.”
Not only would the Chukars be affected, but according to the list posted by The New York Times, the entire Pioneer League including eight teams throughout Idaho, Montana, Colorado and Utah would dissolve. A handful of other teams would also be hurt, including the Appalachian League that would lose nine of its 10 teams. That would erase 25 percent of minor league teams. The minor leagues would then have to move some of the remaining organizations into different leagues and adjust minor league levels.
Lantz said the letter he received from the MLB about the proposal was “very open-ended.” Although he is not at the negotiation table, he has been in a couple of discussions regarding the topic. If the proposal was brought forth because of time and money issues, he brought up one way the Minor League, specifically the Pioneer League, can be more efficient.
“The Pioneer League is one of the tougher travel leagues in baseball, that’s for sure,” Lantz said. “Maybe the solution for that is to play longer series instead of playing three- or four-game series, then getting on a bus and traveling. Maybe play a five- or six-game series.”
U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, was one of the 106 members of Congress who wrote a letter to MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred voicing their opinion on the matter.
“Tens of millions of fans attend Minor League Baseball games each season,” the letter read. “These professional baseball clubs are vital components of our communities because they provide affordable, family-friendly entertainment to members of our communities, support scores of allied business, employ thousands of individuals, donate millions of dollars in charitable funds and connect our communities to Major League Baseball.”
One aspect of the situation that is stumping the Minor League is why certain teams are on the list in the first place. Lantz pointed out specifically the Lexington Legends in Kentucky. He believes they have an up-to-par facility, traveling isn’t awful, and they are “right in the footprint of their league.”
“It’s mind-boggling that some of these teams have had baseball for over 100 years in their cities who are on the list,” Lantz said. “We want to know why that is.”
The Minor League negotiation team will be looking for answers from the MLB when the two organizations meet Thursday in Dallas. They will both get together again in about two weeks for more negotiations in San Diego.
“We hope to start laying the groundwork for a new PBA,” Lantz said.
How long it will take to come to an agreement is anyone’s guess. He said it’s early in the process, and it could be anywhere from two to six months. But Lantz is hopeful for what lies ahead.
“We just got to get rid of the problem with Major League Baseball and then find ways to create solutions,” Lantz said. “That’s basically our goal.”