MLB Partnership Taking Its Toll on American Association Rosters
American Association Daily provides insights, features, and recaps of the action from around the American Association of Professional Baseball League, as well as player and coaching profiles and transactions. In today’s edition, Robert Pannier looks at how the expected flood of minor league players became a myth as Major League organizations have reached into the American Association for players to fill roster spots.
American Association Teams Losing Key Players Before Season Begins
When it was announced in September that the American Association was partnering with Major League Baseball, there were many who were scratching their heads wondering what that exactly meant for the league. Obviously, an affiliation with MLB was a big step up for the American Association. This wasn’t just a closer tie to the world’s top baseball league, but it was recognition that independent league baseball in general, and the American Association in particular are and will continue to be a place where great professional baseball is being played.
That was the good news, and it is very possible that there will continue to be great perks for the league flowing from this affiliation. However, for many American Association managers, this is quickly turning into a nightmare. Rosters are being pilfered by organizations who need players at their AA and AAA levels and this has many managers wondering if they are going to have a full roster come opening day.
Wasn’t This Supposed to Flow the Other Way?
When it was announced that the minor league system would be losing 42 teams, dropping to 120, independent baseball managers were salivating at the prospect of 1000 players becoming available to them. At least that many players would be released because there were far fewer teams needing pitchers, catchers, infielders, and outfielders.
It appeared that it would become like a buffet line for managers. Need a solid young defensive catcher to back up your starter? Well, there would be six of those. A lefty middle reliever? You had your pick of 10 or 12 of those lefties. It seemed that filling a roster would be a piece of cake.
Sadly, that has not been the case at all. In fact, it has been the exact opposite.
Covid-19 did not just mean that the 2020 minor league baseball season was shut down. It also meant that many players moved on in their lives. A guy who thought he would hang on for a year or two more looking to see if he would get an opportunity to reach the Majors instead had the opportunity to get a 9-5 job in 2020 and took it. Many became coaches, business professionals, or used their degrees and expertise in other ways that quickly depleted the number of available players.
In addition, the delay to the minor league seasons pushed back opening day until right until the time when the American Association was starting spring-training. Many managers still believed that there would be releases at that time, but that never materialized.
Instead, the reverse has been true. Instead of minor league teams flooding the market with available players for independent managers, these organizations have reached out and “transferred” players from independent rosters, especially in the American Association, to affiliate clubs.
Just since American Association Spring Training got underway, 13 players have joined Major League affiliates and there are expected to be a number of additional players transferred within the next few days. This did not include the 29 players who were already transferred onto minor league rosters before the minor league seasons began.
These transfers are becoming a nightmare for American Association managers. These are players that managers have come to expect would at least open the season on their roster, but they are being taken during spring training, leaving big holes to fill with no players available to fill them.
Teams expected to vie for the league title are being hit the hardest. Sioux City already lost infielder D.J. Burt and right-handed pitcher Kent Hasler. Milwaukee has lost right-handers Conor Fisk, A.J. Schugel, and Brandon Koch in the last five days. Sioux Falls lost their top hitter in Clint Coulter and is expected to lose at least one if not two other players by the end of this weekend. Nearly every team has been affected.
This would never have been the case even a year ago. Even one or two players signing during spring training was a rarity, but the delay to the minor league season has made it so that teams are seeing needs right away, and are turning to the American Association to fill those roster spots.
In previous seasons, the minors would have already been playing for nearly a month before spring training got underway in the American Association. They already had clear ideas about their needs and had addressed many of those long before the American Association took to the field. This is a different season, however, and so many of these teams are realizing they do not have the bodies to fill spots, especially at the upper levels. This has them reaching into the American Association to find players to fill their rosters, a pattern that is likely to continue over the next few weeks.
Wait Until Next Year?
A sad fact for American Association managers is they may have to simply put up with this for at least another month or two. This may be a very tough year to fill roster spots, at least until the MLB amateur draft occurs. At that point, there should be at least a mini-wave of releases.
Managers are going to have to face the fact that this may be a tough year. It is going to take a year or two for the minor league system to work out the kinks. Eventually, there is going to be a point where there are a large number of releases available each year. Unfortunately, that is not going to be this year. Instead, American Association managers are going to have to talk about waiting until next year for greener pastures. Who knew they would become Cubs fans at heart?
By Robert Pannier