One of the big unanswered questions in baseball this winter has been exactly what the minor-league structure was going to look like. We knew that non-complex short-season leagues were going away, but exactly how the reshuffling of affiliates around baseball was going to look had not been revealed. Like everything else with regards to MLB and its handling of MiLB, it’s been a disaster and without care for any of the organizations or team employees involved. Well, on Wednesday, we finally did get some clarity. Baseball America has been all over this stuff for over a year now, and they have the list of affiliates for everyone here.
For the Red Sox, all four of their full-season affiliates will remain in the organization, with just a minor tweak. At the top, it’s totally the same. Worcester is still Triple-A and Portland is still Double-A. Moving down the ladder, Greenville and Salem still remain in the organization, but they swap levels. So Greenville will now be High-A while Salem moves down to Low-A. Will this be confusing as hell? Yes. Will I get that wrong nearly every time through the season when talking about prospects? You bet your ass I will.
As far as the organizations being kept, though, it’s not a major surprise. Obviously Worcester wasn’t going anywhere, and same with Portland. Both are close to the major-league club and have good relationships with Boston. Salem is part owned by the Red Sox ownership, so they would’ve had to sell if they got rid of Salem. Greenville was the one who could have been let go, but they are among the most widely respected minor-league organizations in all of minor-league baseball. Cutting them loose would have been a terrible move.
Of course, amid all of this is leaves Lowell without an affiliation. This one is a bit personal for me as I grew up in Haverhill, which is right outside Lowell, and went to a ton of Spinners games growing up. It’s part of how I fell in love with the game. It’s not fair at all that that organization loses its affiliation. The Red Sox didn’t really have a better option here, unfortunately. And things are complicated with Lowell due in part to an agreement with UMass Lowell to share their park that makes it difficult to support a full-season affiliation. For what it’s worth, Michael Silverman reports that Boston is going to try and make something work with Lowell possibly as soon as 2022. I hope that works out, but unless it involves a new stadium I don’t see how it would.
The important thing to not lose sight of here is that it didn’t need to happen. MLB could have kept its short-season leagues and not changed the structure of minor-league baseball. It could have held on to one of the things that made it so different from all the other Big Four leagues, having affiliated, professional baseball in parts of the country that just don’t see professional sports. They can go ahead and replace these leagues with amateur leagues, but it won’t be the same. For kids especially, it’s just different when you can go watch a guy and say, “This man is part of the Red Sox. I might see him on the Red Sox someday.” It’s a special feeling that MLB is robbing kids of from areas all across the country.
I mean, yes, it’s true that MLB clubs probably don’t need all of these different levels in order to run an efficient minor-league system to create the best MLB rosters. But to look at that as the only, or even primary, function of the minors is to be out of touch with fans and to miss the forest for the trees. They can talk all they want about rule changes and initiatives to attract young fans, but the fact of the matter is they just got rid of entire leagues that helped get young people like myself into the sport in order to save a couple bucks. It’s shameful, and something that I believe will ultimately be the biggest stain on the Rob Manfred era of baseball. Which is saying something at this point.