As the owners meetings continue this week in Arlington, Texas, Major League Baseball officials have begun negotiations on a new agreement with minor-league clubs, including the proposed contraction of more than 42 teams across the country.
Among the franchises on the chopping block: the Williamsport Crosscutters, the short-season Class A affiliate of the Phillies since 2007.
The existing agreement between MLB and 160 minor-league teams expires at the end of the 2020 season. In an attempt to consolidate and reorganize the minors at all levels, mostly low-A and below, MLB is considering the elimination of 42 teams in 21 states, many of which would be incorporated after next season into a new, independent “Dream League” that would be populated by undrafted players.
Williamsport is the lone Phillies’ affiliate on the endangered list. Two other Pennsylvania-based teams — the Erie SeaWolves (Detroit Tigers’ double-A) and the State College Spikes (St. Louis Cardinals’ short-season Class A) — are also at risk of losing their affiliation.
The proposal has prompted bipartisan opposition from more than 100 members of Congress, who stated in a letter to commissioner Rob Manfred and all 30 major-league owners that the loss of those teams would “devastate our communities, their bond purchasers and other stakeholders.”
But in a strongly worded response to lawmakers on Tuesday night, MLB deputy commissioner Dan Halem claimed that the reduction of teams is necessary to improve working conditions for players, including compensation. Minor leaguers are paid by their major-league teams. The average salary for triple-A players is $10,000 per month, according to MLB, while short-season and rookie-level players are paid an average of $1,100 per month.
Halem also asserted that the teams at risk of being cut “do not possess adequate training facilities, medical facilities, locker rooms, and, in some cases, playing fields, to satisfy the requirements of our Clubs and players.”
Crosscutters officials haven’t commented on the matter, but in a statement released on Facebook this week, the team contended that it has met each of MLB’s requirements at BB&T Ballpark at historic Bowman Field, a refurbished 2,366-seat stadium that has hosted a big-league game in each of the last three years during the Little League World Series.
"As MLB has stated publicly, their main concerns are around facility standards and significant distances of some clubs from their affiliates (neither of which apply to the Crosscutters) so this is just a natural process of negotiation on behalf of all 160 Minor League baseball teams," the team said in its statement, adding that the Crosscutters "look forward to being part of this community for many more years to come."
The Crosscutters moved to Williamsport in 1994 and were affiliated with the Chicago Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates before aligning with the Phillies. Williamsport was an original entrant in the New York-Penn League in 1926, and Bowman Field has been home to an affiliated minor-league club in all but 17 of the last 93 years.