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MLB set to scrap some contracts; area could lose Scrappers

NILES — The Mahoning Valley Scrappers are listed among the 25 percent of Minor League teams that may lose their Major League Baseball player development contract for the 2021 season and beyond.

The plan, according to an Oct. 18 report in Baseball America, cited “facility standards” and “significant distance of some clubs from their affiliates” as major concerns for the 42 teams on the list.

Minor League Baseball just completed its 15th consecutive season with an attendance above 40 million. It was the ninth-largest single season total in MiLB’s 100-plus year history. Still, many of the Minor League clubs would fail without a player development contract, which currently is sealed through the 2020 season.

The Scrappers, the Class-A (short season) affiliate of the Cleveland Indians, issued a news release Tuesday: “Though we cannot officially comment given the fact that the negotiations between MLB and MiLB are still at the earliest stages and ongoing, we do want to make it clear that nothing has or will be decided in this process for a very long time,” it stated.

“Although MLB has stated publicly its main concerns are facility standards and significant distance of some clubs from their affiliates, the Scrappers currently meet MLB’s facility standards and have good travel within the New York-Penn League.

“Therefore, though we recognize the press surrounding this is hard to ignore, we want to stress that it will be business as usual for the 2020 season for the affiliate in Niles and we have a strong hope the Mahoning Valley Scrappers will be a part of this community for many more years to come.”

The Scrappers’ facility, Eastwood Field, recently replaced its playing surface and built an addition to the clubhouse with a weight room and area for the players. Both were done last offseason at a cost of almost $600,000.

On Tuesday, local politicians began standing up for their hometown clubs, including U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Howland. Ryan joined a bipartisan group of 105 House members to urge MLB to abandon its plan.

“The Mahoning Valley Scrappers are a pillar of our community and provide an affordable and fun way for families to spend time together,” Ryan said. “I am deeply concerned by the news that the MLB is discussing a reorganization that would eliminate the traditional affiliation with Major League Baseball held by the Scrappers and 41 other teams. This decision should be immediately reversed.

“The Scrappers allow our community to see future major league all-stars up close, including Scrapper alumni like Francisco Lindor, Victor Martinez, Jose Ramirez, and C.C. Sabathia. I hope Major League Baseball takes this message to heart and will continue to provide the Scrappers the support from Major League Baseball that allows the great American pastime to exist in our community.”

Jordan Taylor, general manager, vice president of HWS Baseball, said in a statement: “The Scrappers have been a staple of the Mahoning Valley for over 20 years. The Scrappers provide the Mahoning Valley with affordable, family-friendly entertainment, support many local businesses, employ hundreds of individuals, donate hundreds of thousands of dollars in charitable funds and connect the community to the game of baseball and Major League Baseball. If the MLB reorganization effort was enacted, it would have a devastating effect on the community.”

In a letter written to MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, with every team copied, members of Congress underscored the damage this move would cause to the communities where the at-risk teams are located.

Part of the letter reads: “The abandonment of Minor League clubs by Major League Baseball would devastate our communities, their bond purchasers, and other stakeholders affected by the potential loss of these clubs. We want you to fully understand the impact this could have not only on the communities we represent, but also on the long-term support that Congress has always afforded our national pastime on a wide variety of legislative initiatives.

“For more than a century, Congress has taken numerous actions specifically designed to protect, preserve, and sustain a system and structure for both Major and Minor League Baseball to flourish.

“You are the most important steward of the great game of baseball and tasked with ensuring the popularity and love of it across the world. Reducing the number of Minor League Baseball clubs and overhauling a century-old system that has been consistently safeguarded by Congress is not in the best interest of the overall game of baseball, especially when Major League Baseball’s revenues are at all-time highs.

“As members of Congress who recognize the tremendous value of the Minor League system, we ask Major League Baseball to strongly reconsider its proposed course with Minor League Baseball and do all that it can to ensure the continuation of affiliated baseball in our communities.”

bemerine@tribtoday.com