New MLB proposal to cut dozens of minor league affiliations leaves Cyclones, SI Yanks in limbo

CONEY ISLAND — Play ball no more? New York City’s minor league baseball teams are in limbo.

A report recently leaked to media outlets revealed that in order to deal with a variety of issues and improve conditions for professional baseball players, Major League Baseball (MLB) has proposed to de-affiliate over 40 minor league baseball (MiLB) teams by the start of the 2021 season.  

Of the 42 teams in danger of no longer having MLB affiliation, nine of them are part of the New York Penn League, MiLB’s short season A league that’s home to the Staten Island Yankees and Brooklyn Cyclones. The Yankees are on the list of teams proposed to lose their major league affiliation. Although not on the list, the Cyclones’ future also remains uncertain because of its connection to the New York Penn League.

There has been plenty of speculation regarding the Cyclones, which have been a Coney Island fixture since the team’s debut in 2001 at MCU Park.

With the New York Penn League in danger of not continuing past 2020 under the proposal, The New York Times reported that one possible outcome would be to convert the Cyclones to a full-season team. The Mets Double-A team affiliate, the Binghamton Rumble Points, is also on the list for possible de-affiliation. The Times reported that the Cyclones could be converted to a Class AA team.

However, the New York Post stated that both the Yankees and Cyclones could potentially be replaced by extended spring training at the teams’ minor league complexes.

“We don’t really have any comment at this time since nothing is definitive and negotiations between MLB and MiLB are ongoing,” said Director of Communications for the Brooklyn Cyclones Billy Harner in a statement to this paper. “We are looking forward to playing baseball on Coney Island in 2020 and for many years to come.” 

The Post also said teams that would lose their affiliations, such as the Staten Island Yanks, could receive the option of entering a “Dream League,” a proposed independent league that would be partially funded by MLB.

Senior Director of Communications for MiLB Jeff Lantz talked to this paper about the local franchises.

“I think they’re both very strong franchises,” he said. “They both have tremendous leadership and both of them do a great job in the community and are valuable members of the fabric of those communities. Both of those ballparks are in very good shape. It would be a shame to see baseball leave either one of those markets or any park in the state for that matter. Particularly those two franchises are very strong. The general managers of those two teams are fantastic. They’re not concerns of ours on a regular basis. We trust those guys and they seem to do what’s right.

“The Brooklyn club has done a nice job,” Lantz added. “They are one of the more cutting-edge franchises in Minor League Baseball when it comes to promotions. They’ve won some of our national awards in past years. The Yankees came out and said how proud they are of that team and how they want the Staten Island Yankees to remain. There’s some value there.”

Borough President Eric Adams expressed his feelings on the proposal.

“I am deeply concerned about the planned cuts to Minor League Baseball, and particularly how it may affect the Brooklyn Cyclones, who are coming off an incredibly successful season, as well as the Staten Island Yankees,” he told this paper. “These teams and so many others are more than collections of players; they are integral parts of the communities they represent. I hope the MLB reconsiders this proposal – players and communities deserve better.”

According to a statement by the Staten Island Yankees, “Nothing has or will be decided in this process for a very long time.

“As MLB has stated publicly, their main concerns are around facility standards, club travel and proximity to an MLB affiliate,” the statement continued. “Your SI Yanks currently meet MLB’s facility standards, have good travel within the New York-Penn League and reside in the same city as their MLB affiliate.”

The idea of de-affiliating the Staten Island Yankees is not going down well with Rep. Max Rose, who represents Staten Island and portions of southwest Brooklyn. He tweeted, “The @MLB plan to scrap the @SIYanks, which for 20 years have given us a window into the future of the Bronx Bombers and given back to our community, would be a devastating loss for Staten Island.”

He was one of over 100 representatives to sign a letter urging Commissioner Robert Manfred to reconsider the proposal.

During a press conference in Texas on November 21, Manfred enumerated four problems that MLB is trying to tackle.

“Number one, we have facilities, and I can show you pictures if you want to see them, that are simply not appropriate for a professional baseball player,” he told reporters. “Inadequate showers, tiny locker rooms, no place for players to eat or work out.”

Beyond that, Manfred said that teams have “moved 77 franchises since 1990. Left communities 77 times to get a bigger subsidy somewhere else. That’s fine. That’s their business. They can move. What it has done to us is produce travel that is not acceptable for professional baseball players. Bus rides six, eight,10 hours and in a lot of cases it’s on a school bus.”

In addition, Manfred said, MLB “think[s] our minor league players need to be paid better,” and finally, he floated the idea “that maybe we are drafting and signing players who don’t have a realistic opportunity to become major leaguers. Those are four pretty serious problems.”

He then said that MiLB had told MLB that a lot of facilities can’t be fixed.

“[They said] we see all four of those problems as your problems,” Manfred said. “I’m not sure why major league baseball should pay to fix a minor league facility that the minor league operators say can’t be fixed. We went back to them and said, you want to maintain the status quo, we can maintain the status quo, but we are going to maintain it with 120 franchises that are functional. You don’t have 160 functional franchises. We got no response to that. What we got was a campaign of PR, misinformation, appeals to Congress.”

Meanwhile, Lantz hope a new deal will be worked out.

Noting that usually early negotiations don’t become public, he told Brooklyn Reporter, “We caution against panicking or angst. Unfortunately, this early proposal became public and now we are here having to deal with that. The two sides met yesterday in Dallas and from what I understand, it was a very positive discussion and they’re going to get back together in San Diego for the baseball winter meetings and hopefully continue making progress and seeing what it takes to save baseball in those 42 cities that were listed.”

He added that he believes both sides want to get a deal done. 

“It’s good for the game to have minor league baseball and obviously we feel it’s better for the game that we have it in 164 markets instead of 120, so we are going to do what we can to keep professional baseball in all 164 markets. Hopefully we can work out a deal that is beneficial to both sides,” Lantz said.

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