EVERETT — On Friday, reports in the New York Times and Baseball America outlined Major League Baseball’s desire to overhaul the minor leagues, with a proposal to cut the number of affiliations from 160 to 120.
The Northwest League, the short-season Class A league in which the Everett AquaSox are members, was prominently mentioned in both reports. According to the New York Times’ David Waldstein, lower-level minor leagues, such as the Northwest League, could be transitioned to “Dream Leagues,” that are independently run and consist of undrafted players.
According to JJ Cooper of Baseball America, the Northwest League could move up to a full-season schedule after the Professional Baseball Agreement between Major League Baseball and the minor leagues expires at the end of the 2020 season.
The report doesn’t have the AquaSox panicking yet, but general manager Danny Tetzlaff is following the negotiations closely.
“Am I concerned about it? I’d be naive to say I wasn’t,” Tetzlaff said. “Anything that’s proposed that would dramatically affect your business model, then it would definitely catch your interest. I think it’s early for us to be too concerned. Right now, we’re focused on 2020 and we’ll keep doing it the way we’ve been doing it.”
The first hang up is the weather in the region, with the coastal teams Hillsboro, Everett and Vancouver experiencing a great deal of rain in the spring.
“We haven’t decided to put a roof over Funko Field yet, and I don’t think that’s going to happen,” Tetzlaff said in jest.
Also, many of the ballparks in the league are dual purpose. Everett Memorial Stadium is owned by the Everett School District, and it’s heavily used during April and May with high-school baseball games and Everett Community College home games.
“I don’t think we could play games that time of year,” Tetzlaff said. “Maybe we could play at 10 a.m., but I don’t really want to do that.”
Other teams would have the same issue. The Eugene Emeralds play at PK Park at the University of Oregon, and the Ducks’ schedule can extend into late May. Most of the other teams lease stadiums owned by the city, like Avista Stadium in Spokane and Ron Tonkin Field in Hillsboro.
Tetzlaff said that concerns in Northwest League markets have already been expressed to Pat O’Connor, Minor League Baseball’s president and CEO, and they’ve hinted that MiLB should beef up their negotiating team.
Per the two reports, MLB is proposing to revamp the minor-league structure because of displeasure on negotiations in Player Development Contracts, minor-league facilities and geographical struggles for many affiliates.
But public reaction to unaffiliating up to 42 minor-league franchises has led to some unrest, which Tetzlaff can sympathize with.
“I personally feel that it could possibly affect 42 communities across the country in the heart of America, I mean come on,” Tetzlaff said. “I think that’s crazy.”