After a longstanding relationship between the Marlins and Greensboro dissolved in 2018, the franchise had to secure a new player development contract for their Low-A Minor League Baseball affiliate. It was a blessing in disguise. During the first year of their partnership with the Clinton LumberKings (based in Clinton, Iowa), a handful of young prospects tapped into their potential and produced at career-best rates to merit promotions, while the team itself made a deep playoff run.
But that partnership is in serious jeopardy—the initial Professional Baseball Agreement proposal from Major League Baseball to MiLB calls for Clinton and 41 other small markets to lose their affiliation after the current PBA expires. It is expected to be the most radical restructuring of the minors in decades.
The LumberKings issued the following statement Thursday afternoon to acknowledge the situation:
Over the past several weeks, multiple news outlets have reported the story of Major League Baseball’s (MLB) plan to eliminate 42 Minor League Baseball (MiLB) teams starting in the 2021 season. This story came from the initial proposal from MLB regarding the future of MiLB. The written agreement between MLB and MiLB is called the Professional Baseball Agreement (PBA). The current PBA expires after the 2020 season.
In their proposal, MLB wants to eliminate 42 MiLB teams without any communication from MLB as to the reasons why each of those markets were selected. The communities in which these 42 clubs are located in would no longer have affordable family entertainment to rely on, no longer be able to offer jobs for their residents, no longer contribute to the overall economic well-being to their region, no longer be an essential quality of life to their area, and no longer provide other positive factors too numerous to mention. Unfortunately, three of the 42 clubs slated for elimination are located here in eastern Iowa—the Burlington Bees, Quad City River Bandits and our very own—Clinton LumberKings.
Negotiations between MLB and MiLB have just started and the MLB proposal is just the first step taken in these negotiations. MiLB will respond in future meetings that are planned between now and the first of the year. Those meetings will be to discuss a new PBA agreement—an agreement that includes all existing 160 MiLB clubs.
The press coverage surrounding this story is sometimes overwhelming and discouraging, but we wanted to publicly state that we are busy planning for a great 2020 season in hopes of defending our Midwest League Western Division title and reaching the Midwest League finals for a second straight season.
The upcoming 2020 season will be our 84th year of providing a great place for fans to come out and enjoy baseball here in Clinton, Iowa. We are very proud of our franchise and the 287 players who have worn a Clinton uniform on their way to the Major Leagues. We are very confident that that number will continue to grow in the years ahead.
As the ONLY remaining Charter Member left in the Midwest League—we look forward to joining our other 15 members of the Midwest League in what we know will be an outstanding 2020 season.
Thank you very much for your continued support!
LumberKings Management, Staff & Board of Directors
Speaking at the Owners Meetings, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred was quick to respond with the justification behind the proposal:
Manfred said there were four reasons to cut 42 MiLB teams.— Laura Albanese (@AlbaneseLaura) November 21, 2019
1. Inadequate facilities
2. 77 franchises have moved since 1990, making for untenable travel
3. Poor pay for minor leaguers
4. Drafting and signing players who don't have a realistic opportunity to make it to the bigs.
Outfielders Connor Scott, Jerar Encarnación and Peyton Burdick, infielder José Devers and right-hander Humberto Mejía were among the key Marlins prospects who spent parts of their 2019 season in Clinton. Infielders Nasim Nuñez and Osiris Johnson and outfielder Víctor Mesa Jr. project to develop their next year.
Disclaimer: LumberKings broadcaster Erik Oas contributed to Fish Stripes in 2019, hosting the weekly “A-Ball with Erik Oas” show on our podcast.