Major League Baseball's rosters may be frozen due to the novel coronavirus delaying the season, but that isn't stopping organizations from trimming their ranks on the minor-league side. Beginning this week and extending through next week, teams are collectively expected to release hundreds of minor leaguers, according to ESPN's Jeff Passan, with most organizations cutting somewhere between 30 and 50 players.
In a typical year, teams release a dozen or more players heading into the season as a means of clearing space and giving those who were waived a chance to latch on elsewhere. To say the least, this has not been a typical year. The spread of COVID-19 caused the league to shut down weeks before the start of the season, leaving teams with larger rosters than they would have otherwise had at this point in the year.
The Kansas City Royals, Minnesota Twins, Houston Astros, Cincinnati Reds, Red Sox and Pittsburgh Pirates have committed to paying their minor league players their current weekly $400 stipend and receive benefits through Aug. 31, which is when the 2020 Minor League Baseball season was scheduled to reach its conclusion.
Still, there are other circumstances at play behind these roster culls. Here are three contributing factors to know about, and how they're likely to affect the future of minor-league baseball.
1. There likely won't be MiLB season
We may as well start with the obvious point, right?
There's little to no chance of a minor-league season taking place this year. Don't get us wrong: teams might host a modified instructional league later in the year, but that's about the extent of it. (Heck, some clubs have already furloughed player-development types, too.)
Knowing that, teams could make more cuts than usual without fear that they'd have too few players to field full rosters across several affiliates. Speaking of which ….
2. The contraction issue
Commissioner Rob Manfred wants to overhaul the minors by contracting affiliates and reducing the amount of roster spots held by what teams consider to be non-prospects. At some point, that meant the players deemed excess would have to be cleared from the deck.
This could well be that point, with the pandemic serving as the line of demarcation between what the minor leagues were and Manfred's leaner, cheaper minor-league system.
3. A cost-cutting move without the same PR hit
Earlier this week, the Oakland Athletics announced they would stop paying their minor-league players their weekly $400 stipends. They took a massive and rightful public relations backlash for it, too. With all teams grouping together to release players, they'll be rid of their financial obligation to those players without taking a similar PR hit.
The entire situation is horrid for the released players, who lose their source of meager income during a pandemic, and have minimal chance of latching on elsewhere. It stands to reason some of these players will have to abandon their baseball dreams in order to seek gainful employment during these tough times.
Add that to the thinned minor-league system, and a large chunk of the players who have or will be released played their final meaningful game last August without knowing it.