The Red Sox’s minor league teams adapt in light of a cancelled season.
In an expected decision and as a result of the growing coronavirus pandemic, Minor League Baseball (MiLB) canceled its 2020 season this past Tuesday.
“We are in dire straits,” said MiLB President Pat O’Conner. “[Finding a way to play had] an insurmountable list of challenges.”
For the Boston Red Sox’s farm system, the inevitable cancellation will impact the future of many of their young players. With the shortened season and 60-player roster pool, fans may be able to see some of the Red Sox’s top prospects playing on the big stage this year.
Infielder Bobby Dalbec and catcher Connor Wong are two notable players that have been called up to the roster and will likely make their Major League Baseball (MLB) debut this season. Prospects including Jeter Downs, Bryan Mata, Daniel McGrath, and Tristan Casas may also earn a spot on the roster pool.
Some players may benefit from no MiLB season and have the chance to make their MLB debut earlier than expected. However, others will have to deal with financial struggles and may have to look towards other independent baseball leagues or international options to continue their career.
This news is even more disheartening for fans of the Pawtucket Red Sox (PawSox), the Red Sox’s Triple A team and only professional baseball team in Rhode Island. They’re missing out on their 50th season, as the team will relocate to Worcester, Massachusetts next year.
“We are deeply disappointed to not have a summer of PawSox Baseball, especially in our 50th-anniversary season,” expressed Pawtucket’s team president Charles Steinberg. “But we will keep the faith; this may not be how the story ends.”
Along with MiLB teams across the country, the Red Sox affiliates are looking for creative ways to provide entertainment for local families and generate revenue. The PawSox have converted their ballpark, McCoy Stadium, into an outdoor restaurant. This month, the Red Sox’s Double A team, the Portland Sea Dogs, are transforming their Hadlock Field into a nine-hole golf course. The Single A-Advanced affiliate Salem Red Sox recently held a youth baseball tournament in their stadium and earned some revenue from opening their concession stands.
“It’s been great. We didn’t expect opening day to be with some 13-year-olds,” shared Salem Red Sox general manager Allen Lawrence.
Nevertheless, it is inevitable that many of the lower-level MiLB teams are going to struggle financially from this cancellation. With many having to issue season-ticket refunds and furloughing employees, some clubs won’t be able to survive this economic downturn.
Some teams are even taking their troubles to court. The Single-A affiliate Greenville Drive are joining fourteen MiLB teams in filing a lawsuit against five insurance companies over the economic downturn brought by Covid-19. They believe that the insurance companies breached their contract after they denied giving business-interruption insurance claims.
The lawsuit reads that “in the first few months of 2020, the federal government failed to recognize the severity of the pandemic and did not contain the virus…A failure of the federal government to build an effective wall preventing the continued migration of the virus from states that were hit early to the rest of the country.”
According to the fifteen MiLB clubs, they were denied claims because their losses were not a result of direct physical damages and because their policies exclude coverage for any viruses. The teams are countering those arguments, citing that not being able to use their ballparks due to government restriction is a physical damage and that “the virus clause” should not be enforced.
The suit states that most MiLB teams have more than $2 million in expenses that must be paid “without regard to whether they suffer interruption of their operations.” Furthermore, the lawsuit points out that “as a result of the virus, the governmental response, and Major League Baseball’s failure to provide baseball players, the teams have been deprived of their primary source of revenue — fans coming to the ballpark and paying for game tickets, merchandise, food and beverage, and partaking in other amenities.”
Unfortunately, the future of MiLB is dim. Prior to the pandemic, there were reports of reforming MiLB by reducing the number of affiliated teams from 160 to 120. A new contract between the MLB and MiLB is expected to be finalized this fall and will likely create a smaller minor league system with few affiliates.
While MLB has the ability to generate revenue from televised games and sponsorships, MiLB teams don’t have the luxury. If MiLB returns next season and the virus does not stop slowing down, clubs may have to enforce social distancing and allow less fans into their already small stadiums. Even worse so, if baseball continues to be played with no fans in attendance, it will be difficult for MiLB teams to get TV contracts and generate any revenue.
Although most baseball fans expected this decision to be made, its implications and impact on the future of MiLB is full of uncertainty and dismay.