BILLINGS — With news breaking late last week that a proposal is on the table for Major League Baseball to eliminate around 40 minor league teams after next summer, Billings Mustangs fans are naturally concerned.
The short answer is, yes, it could happen. The complex answer is -- complex.
The Mustangs have long been successful with their MLB parent club Cincinnati Reds on the field, in attendance and with the fairly new Dehler Park. But none of it may matter.
The bottom line: Major League Baseball wants to cut costs.
So, it's proposing the elimination of four rookie-level, short-season leagues. That's exactly what the Pioneer League is, which fields Montana teams in Billings, Great Falls and Missoula.
The proposal also completely reorganizes full-season minor league baseball. According to a Baseball America story, the short-season Northwest League would be one of the few, if not the only, low-level leagues to move to full-season baseball.
As of now, everything stays in place for next summer before the current contract between MLB and its minor league affiliates expires in September of 2020. That means the Mustangs will be back, at least for one more season.
Mustangs general manager Gary Roller told MTN Sports on Wednesday that minor league personnel have been asked by Minor League Baseball not to comment publicly. Roller did offer that he doesn't know anymore than what the rest of us are reading and hearing.
With the elimination of short-season leagues, reports say that some big league teams would have to shed up to 100 players from their minor league squads. Right now there are no restrictions on how many players a Major League team can employ.
If MLB's proposal moves forward the question would become, what happens to the estimated 42 teams who would be left without player development contracts? MLB suggests setting up what it calls the Dream League. Like a minor league to the minor leagues, it would field teams of undrafted players. Again, there's no threat to next summer's Pioneer League season, but after that it's all in limbo.
MTN Sports reached out to senior director of communications for Minor League Baseball Jeff Lantz late Wednesday afternoon but couldn't reach him for comment.
President of Minor League Baseball Pat O'Conner was quoted in the Baseball America article saying, “We are engaged with Major League Baseball on a successor agreement to the PBA. It’s early in the negotiations, and that’s the most I can say."