SALT LAKE CITY — Executives from the Ogden Raptors and Orem Owlz were quoted extensively in an ESPN report this week that details Major League Baseball's plan to end its affiliation with 42 minor league ball clubs, including theirs, putting the future of Utah baseball in jeopardy.
Ogden's Dave Baggott and Orem's Jeff Katofsky are none too pleased with the plan, which may become official after the current agreement between major and minor league baseball expires on Sept. 30. But neither feels the minor leagues are in a position to do much about it.
ESPN's report details the way MLB encouraged minor league owners to lobby Congress to pass the "Save America's Pastime Act," which was tucked away in a 2018 spending bill. The bill exempts minor league players from overtime and minimum wage requirements, and while MLB implied its passage might spare the minor leagues from contraction, it's set to cut bait on dozens of teams just a couple of years later.
"We were invited to dinner," Baggott says in the article, "and found out we were it."
The entire rookie ball level is on the chopping block, and with it the Pioneer League to which Ogden and Orem belong. The two clubs were on a November 2019 New York Times list of potentially contracting teams; the list is said to have changed a bit since then, but it's unlikely Utah's rookie ball teams have been spared.
ESPN's report details MLB's plan to eliminate entire levels of the minor league system, leaving each of its 30 clubs with just four affiliates. MLB will also eliminate the MiLB headquarters in Florida and run the minor leagues from its own offices in New York, as well as take over merchandising, sponsorship and broadcasting rights and split those revenues 50-50 with the minor league clubs, ESPN reports.
"I've always thought the plan has been to let the agreement expire," Katofsky says in the article. He said MLB commissioner Rob Manfred "doesn't want to be the commissioner of Major League Baseball. He wants to be called 'Commissioner of Baseball.' It's about controlling the industry. It's all about money and power."
ESPN says the minors' owners and leadership have been disorganized throughout the process, pointing especially to MiLB president Pat O'Conner as unable to save the teams he serves. But Katofsky doesn't fault him entirely.
"After 40 years of having a feeling going one way and not realizing it was changing, I think he got caught," ESPN quotes Katofsky as saying. "Do I hate him? Of course not. Am I disappointed? Yeah, of course, because it has a real effect on me and my friends and partners. A lot of people think it's all Pat's fault because they've got to blame someone. If this all goes to (expletive), I'm not going to make Pat the scapegoat."
Baggott said minor league teams are impossible to sell amid the current economic climate and the possibility of imminent contraction. "Ask yourself a question: What do you think a minor league team is worth right now?" he said. "Is there a market right now? They're not worth a penny right now."
If MLB does cut ties with the Owlz and Raptors, that doesn't automatically mean the teams will fold. That's one possibility, but they could also become independent minor league teams or a place for college stars to play when their regular season ends.
Several owners in the ESPN piece expressed skepticism that fans would come see teams filled out with college players. Many of the impacted teams play in publicly funded stadiums, including Ogden's Lindquist Field, which has a seating capacity of nearly 7,000 fans and could experience a dropoff in attendance if the Raptors lose their affiliation.
The Salt Lake Bees, a Triple-A affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels, are not expected to be impacted by the changes.