What was long expected has been made official. There will be no Minor League Baseball in 2020.
The Minor League Baseball Association officially announced recently that the season has been shelved because Major League Baseball has informed it that they will not provide players. Now, the focus is on what comes next. First, teams, including the Lake Elsinore Storm, the local High-A affiliate the San Diego Padres, must unravel as much as they can from this season. There will undeniably be a flood of fans and advertisers calling and asking for refunds for tickets or deals they had purchased for games that had merely been suspended and not officially canceled.
Perhaps there will be an option to roll their dollars toward 2021, but others will probably want to replenish their own cash flow as best as possible. With the current status of the COVID-19 pandemic producing more and more positive results, the economy has negatively affected nearly every industry, and some people and businesses will want to reclaim as much as they can to help themselves stay afloat.
For weeks and months, teams have been using their stadiums to bring in as many people as possible while staying within their municipality’s social distancing guidelines. From drive-in movie setups in Lake Elsinore, to some minor league teams opening Airbnb properties for fans to rent out overnight, and even the hosting of in-park restaurants, farmers markets, minor league front office staffs are dreaming up whatever they can to get a few drops of revenue in an otherwise arid season.
Teams across the Texas and Pacific Coast Leagues are getting set to host the Texas Collegiate League, one of a smattering of summer college leagues across the country still slated to play despite the coronavirus pandemic. Other stadiums are hosting high school tournaments and showcases, while one plans on hosting an adult softball league.
Without revenue, minor league teams have been laying off and furloughing employees throughout the course of the pandemic. With no games in sight and the payroll protection loans issued in the early part of the shutdown expiring, more jobs will be lost.
“We definitely saw this coming,” former Chaparral High School player Justin Toerner said, who now plays in the St. Louis Cardinals minor league organization. Toerner has been a fixture at Dynamic Fitness in Temecula where he said he will continue to work on getting prepared physically for the 2021 season.
Most teams will keep on some staff members who can help with whichever path they choose to keep fans in their ballparks, but those numbers will likely be minimal. Notable exceptions can be found in Pensacola, Beloit and Portland, which have all promised zero layoffs or furloughs no matter how long the shutdown lasts.
Perhaps one of the biggest positives is that teams can now schedule ballpark events unfettered from the questions about whether the season will take place. Even in normal years, minor league baseball is a year-round business – now the calendar is clear for teams to begin scheduling those non-baseball events without the chance of being forced to scrap their plans at a moment’s notice.
For players who are not part of their MLB team’s current 60-man player pool, the cancellation of the minor league season begins an offseason of uncertainty.
The volatility of the coronavirus and a spike of cases in both big league training states of Florida and Arizona have thrown the possibility of the instructional league and the Arizona Fall League as well as a potential companion league in Florida into serious jeopardy.
Spots in foreign winter leagues will be in high demand and will be dependent on relaxed regulations regarding international travel. Some players, with their contracts suspended as part of the country’s national emergency declaration, will opt to play in independent leagues, but those leagues have also been reduced dramatically in number this year because of the coronavirus.
The reality is that many minor league players are simply not going to play organized baseball in 2020. They will lose a year of development and, in some cases, the thought of what will happen from month to month about whether their parent club will continue paying their stipends will linger on in the back of their minds. The picture of what the minor leagues will look like in 2021 may not become clear until treatments for the coronavirus come into play.
JP Raineri can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.