Proposed Changes Confirmed

Baseball America confirmed several recent rumors on its website Friday, for the first time acknowledging proposed changes that could eliminate both the Arizona and Gulf Coast Rookie Leagues, push the annual MLB First-Year Player Draft to the end of June, and more.

Rumblings of the possible shakeup begin to develop last weekend when a source close to Minor League Baseball informed a representative of the potential changes. Inside The Ivy publisher Steve Holley first alluded to the purported changes in his weekly radio segment on Mike Safford's "Hawk and Roll" show, taped on Thursday before the Class-A Boise Hawks' 4-3 win over Spokane.

Among the various changes that could take place would be the elimination of the Arizona and Gulf Coast Leagues, which currently house rookie teams for 21 organizations.

Many sources believe the proposed changes are being strongly backed by several small-market teams, who argue the financial burden of operating rookie league clubs could be eliminated without much protest from the MLB community. The cost for a rookie league team is believed to be within the neighborhood of $500,000-$700,000 a year--mere pocket change when compared to even the salaries of some backup outfielders and utility infielders in the major leagues.

The buck doesn't stop there, as the potential changes could also eliminate at least one short-season league, reports say. Every major league franchise currently has at least one short-season Class-A affiliate, and in the Cubs' case that affiliate is the Idaho-based Hawks of the Northwest League. (The league's headquarters are stationed in Boise, although half of the eight teams present in the league are stationed in the state of Washington; two more are located in Oregon; and one in Canada.)

While the reduction of a short-season league, or two, is rumored to be a possibility, Hawks General Manager Todd Rahr says the Northwest League won't be one of them.

"The relationship between major league and minor league baseball, under the new agreement we have now, specifies how many Player Development Contracts (PDC) are allowed," Rahr said. "That level is not to be lowered or increased outside of a vote."

The agreement Rahr spoke of was finalized in January at the owners' meetings in Scottsdale, Ariz. The contract finalized was for 10 years, running through the 2014 season. In it, no less than 160 minor league teams are to be fielded.

Furthermore, Rahr contends, "that does not include the complex leagues. Those teams are owned by the major league clubs themselves; not private, individual ownership. They can do what they want with those teams, but when it comes to leagues like the Northwest League, it is written in the PBA (Professional Baseball Agreement) that a certain amount of Player Development Contracts are to be honored; no more, no less."

An obvious question on the minds of many is what would happen to all players currently assigned to a complex league. A current Arizona and/or Gulf Coast League roster can shelf up to 35 active players, not counting the 30 or more players most short-season teams can stock. Should the complex leagues fold, teams would likely hold players in extended spring training and instructional camps.

Also rumored to be undergoing a major facelift is the annual First-Year Player Draft. Currently, the draft is held on the second Tuesday of June each year. If the rumored changes are finalized, that date could be pushed back to as late as June 30.

Additionally, players drafted would have roughly only 4-6 weeks to decide whether or not to sign a professional contract or return to/opt for college, instead of almost a full year as they have now. That of course would put an end to the inevitable holdouts each year. Angels prospect Jered Weaver and Diamondbacks prospect Stephen Drew (above) are two recent names that come to mind in those regards.

When reached for comment Friday, Bob Richmond, the president of both the Arizona League and Northwest League, said he was unaware of anything other than what has already been reported.

"I don't know," Richmond said dryly. "You all probably know as much about this as I do. Right now … I don't know. All I've been told is that it's a possibility."

A source at the Cubs' minor league office in Mesa told Inside The Ivy that a meeting is set for Wednesday (August 17) to further discuss the proposed changes. An official announcement isn't likely to come until the end of this season.

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