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Owners Meeting Baseball

Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred speaks to the media at the owners meeting in Arlington, Texas, Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

Major League Baseball on Monday reiterated its stance regarding a proposal to restructure the minor league system — a plan that would eliminate Auburn and more than 40 other minor league teams — but pledged to work with cities to ensure there are "options to preserve baseball." 

The league released a statement after a meeting between MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders. Sanders, a leading 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, wrote a letter to Manfred last week urging the commissioner to reconsider the plan, which is part of negotiations between MLB and MiLB for a new professional baseball agreement. The agreement establishes the terms of the relationship between the two entities. 

The existing professional baseball agreement expires in September 2020. 

In his letter, Sanders wrote that MLB's proposal "has nothing to do with what is good for baseball, but it has everything to do with greed." 

MLB's statement described the meeting between Manfred and Sanders as "productive." 

"MLB fully recognizes the importance of professional baseball to communities throughout the United States without a major league team and, as our national pastime, appreciates the support of the tens of millions of fans in our country," the league stated. "MLB also understands that we have an obligation to local communities to ensure public money spent on minor league stadiums is done so prudently and for the benefits of all citizens." 

One of MLB's arguments for the proposal is the quality of the minor league ballparks and facilities available to players. In the league's statement, it states that MLB must "ensure that minor league players have safe playing facilities suitable for the development of professional baseball players." 

Jeff Lantz, Minor League Baseball's senior director of communications, told The Citizen in November that an independent firm evaluates each minor league ballpark every three years. 

"All of our clubs currently have been given a passing grade," he said.

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MLB also has concerns with the travel required for some minor league teams. One minor league, the South Atlantic League, has teams as far north as New Jersey and as far south as Georgia. The New York-Penn League, which consists of the Auburn Doubledays and 13 other clubs, has teams in Vermont and Maryland. 

MiLB is open to realignment, but doesn't believe eliminating teams is necessary. 

MLB's statement also addresses an issue raised in Sanders' letter: Players' salaries. There have been reports about minor league players earning below the minimum wage. First-year players in the minor leagues earn a maximum of $1,100 a month. That's slightly below what a worker earning the federal minimum wage — $7.25 an hour — is paid in a month. 

Sanders noted there would be fewer players in the minor league system if MLB's plan is adopted. 

"Instead of paying minor league baseball players a living wage," Sanders wrote, "it appears that the multi-millionaire and billionaire owners of Major League Baseball would rather throw them out on the street no matter how many fans, communities and workers get hurt in the process." 

On Monday, MLB said it must ensure players are "provided with compensation and working conditions appropriate for elite athletes, and have a realistic opportunity of making it to the major leagues." 

The main concern for Sanders and other elected officials is the loss of teams. A list published by the New York Times identified the 42 teams that would be contracted under MLB's proposal. Four are based in New York: Auburn, Batavia, Binghamton and Staten Island. Auburn, Batavia and Staten Island are short-season Single-A teams that play in the New York-Penn League. Binghamton is a Double-A team. 

MLB's proposal would eliminate rookie and short-season teams — the lowest levels of the minor league system. The rookie and short-season teams would be replaced by a "Dream League," which would consist of undrafted players but the teams wouldn't be affiliated with MLB clubs. 

"We repeatedly have stated both publicly and privately to the minor leagues that whatever the outcome of the negotiations, MLB will offer every community that currently hosts professional baseball options to preserve baseball in a viable, fan-friendly, compelling format with the full support of MLB," the league said. "We remain confident that solutions can be reached that satisfy the interests of all stakeholders." 

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Online producer Robert Harding can be reached at (315) 282-2220 or robert.harding@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @robertharding.

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Online producer and politics reporter

I have been The Citizen's online producer and politics reporter since December 2009. I'm the author of the Eye on NY blog and write the weekly Eye on NY column that appears every Sunday in the print edition of The Citizen and online at auburnpub.com.