ASHEVILLE, N.C. (December 17, 2019) — Tourists Baseball — As reported nationally last month, Major League Baseball (MLB) is considering a major realignment of its current network of 160 affiliated minor-league teams. Plans call for the potential elimination of 42 currently-affiliated teams following the 2020 season when the existing Professional Baseball Agreement (PBA) expires. The PBA governs the relationship between MLB and Minor League Baseball (MiLB). Some leagues, such as the 80-year-old Pioneer League, would be eliminated from affiliation in their entirety.
The Tourists were not listed on the 42-team “Hit List” (as it’s been informally dubbed) of teams targeted as candidates for unaffiliation. MLB cited multiple factors in their decision for which teams to potentially eliminate, including the proximity of a club to its parent organization.
The Colorado Rockies are the Tourists’ current parent, and the distance between Coors Field in Denver and Asheville’s McCormick Field is 1,447 miles, making speculation reasonable that the Tourists could align themselves with a new parent team following 2020. The 42-team list includes the teams directly above the Tourists (High Class-A Lancaster JetHawks) and a franchise below them (Rookie League Grand Junction Rockies), meaning in the very least there would be reconfiguring within the Rockies’ system. Even in non-PBA renewal years, a minor league team realigning with a new parent is a common occurrence for a variety of logistical and economic reasons.
Parent organizations typically pay for a minor league organization’s coaches and players, while the local franchise covers the cost of everything else (the field, equipment, uniforms, and travel, among other expenses). Teams eliminated from MLB affiliation would have the opportunity to join a proposed “Dream League” with rosters populated largely by undrafted and released players, and receiving a yet-to-be-defined level of support from MLB that would fall well short of the current financial arrangement provided with affiliation.
An additional alternative for newly unaffiliated teams would be aligning with existing independent leagues, such as the 21-year-old Atlantic League. Independent leagues formally operate outside of MiLB, however, they routinely interact as players are signed and released from team rosters, with independent league players typically seeking a return to the improved advancement prospects of MiLB.