It's early in the negotiations and officials with Minor League Baseball are working hard to save all the minor league ball clubs from the chopping block, a spokesman for Minor League Baseball said this evening.
"The game of baseball is just as important to Batavia and Auburn as it is in Charlotte or Indianapolis," said Jeff Lantz. "We want to see baseball grow and thrive and be a part of all of our communities."
He said it's unfortunate that word leaked that Major League Baseball floated a proposal to eliminate some minor league teams, and even more unfortunate that this week a list of teams MLB is proposing to be cut was leaked. Both Batavia and Auburn were on a list of New York Penn League clubs that could be scrapped if MLB is successful in reducing the number of minor league teams from 160 to 120.
"That's not good for anybody," Lantz said. "It's not good for Minor League Baseball. It's not good for the fans, and it's not good for the fans of Batavia and Auburn."
He said it's early in the process and MLB and its officials are meeting this week to negotiate. They'll meet again at the Winter Meetings in a couple of weeks to try and hammer out a deal.
"We'll find out their (MLB's) concerns," Lantz said. "I don't think there are any concerns that can't be addressed through negotiations and finding out the best way to go."
Asked if MLB holds all the cards, Lantz said, obviously, the Appalachian League (of) MLB owns all the franchises and can do with them as they please, but the rest of the teams have separate owners so their status does become a point of negotiation.
The Batavia Muckdogs are owned by the New York Penn League now, but the team's former owner, a community group -- Genesee County Baseball Club -- would receive a part of the proceeds if NYPL ever sold the club. If the club were sold and moved, members of the club have floated the idea of using the funds to start a baseball team in one of the leagues that provides summer baseball for college-level players.
Lantz referred questions about the team's ownership status and how that might play out in these negotiations to league president Ben Hayes.
The Batavian has been unable to reach Hayes although we've tried for the past couple of weeks.
General Manager Brendan Kelly said he was not authorized to talk about the status of the minor league clubs. We were also unable this evening to reach club President Brian Paris.
That said, Lantz confirmed, there will be a 2020 season for the Muckdogs in Batavia. The current contract between MiLB and MLB runs until Sept. 15, 2020.
"The good news is, that gives us 11 months to try to negotiate a deal," Lantz said.
Lantz said one thing that is helping the cause of Minor League Baseball is politicians speaking out to help save the teams in the communities they represent. He cited specifically a member of Congress from Massachusetts who got more than 100 other members of Congress to sign a petition to send to MLB asking MLB to protect these teams.
Sen. Charles Schumer has come out strongly in favor of keeping ball clubs in Batavia and Auburn.
“America’s favorite pastime should not become part of Upstate New York’s past," Schumer said. "It’s no secret that New York’s minor league teams are institutions within their communities, which is why I implore MLB to reconsider any such plans and will be reaching out to them directly to advocate for our New York teams."
Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, who along with her husband, Bill, is a big fan of the Muckdogs and has attended several games over the years, also sent out a couple of Tweets in support of protecting minor league teams in New York. In one, Hochul wrote, "Foul ball!? @MLB - please say this isn’t so. As the birthplace of baseball and home to the Baseball Hall of Fame, these teams are big economic drivers for our small towns and part of New York’s identity & culture."
UPDATE 8:25 p.m.: Genesee County Baseball Club President Brian Paris said he's had no conversations at this point with Ben Hayes or Minor League Baseball about the future of the Batavia Muckdogs, though he is mindful of the fact that the club has a financial stake in the outcome of negotiations. He noted that Major League Baseball enjoys an antitrust exemption, which could limit the leverage of ball club owners but, citing a Baseball America article, noted that terminating as many as 40 franchises could jeopardize baseball's always tenuous hold on its exemption (which is authorized by Congress). If the Muckdogs are ever sold, Paris noted, it's the intention of the club's board of directors that any proceeds from a sale (about half the value of the club, less operational losses sustained by the NYPL since the league took over) would be used to the benefit the community.