Players on the New Hampshire Fisher Cats can expect more pay and less travel in the future thanks to a plan released by Major League Baseball on Friday that will reorganize the minor leagues into a 120-team structure featuring two Triple-A divisions, and three divisions each for Double-A, high-A and low-A.
Under the new plan, each of the 120 teams will become a Professional Development League license holder. MLB said the plan will reduce travel, increase salaries and provide better working conditions for minor league players. The previous agreement between Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball (MiLB) expired last September.
“Our fans can rest assured that the future of professional baseball in Manchester is strong,” Fisher Cats president Mike Ramshaw said. “Going forward, having access to MLB’s partnership tools — they have a lot to offer — it will help us enhance the fan experience. We’ll continue to work with the Blue Jays and Major League Baseball to see what improvements are needed.”
According to published reports, salaries for players with minor league contracts will see a rise in pay ranging from 38 percent to 72 percent. The weekly minimum rises from $290 to $400 at the rookie level, $290 to $500 at Class A, $350 to $600 at Double-A and $502 to $700 at Triple-A.
The new plan has eliminated 40 affiliated minor league teams. The remaining 120 teams were offered the 10-year PDL licenses in December and each team has reportedly accepted the offer.
It’s uncertain if the traditional league names (Eastern League, Pacific Coast League, etc.) will remain in place. At least temporarily, MLB is calling the minor leagues Triple-A East and West; Double-A Central, Northeast and South; High-A Central, East and West; and Low-A East, Southeast and West. There are geographic subdivisions within each league.
Double-A teams like the Fisher Cats, the Toronto Blue Jays Double-A affiliate, will have a 138-game schedule and will open the 2021 season in May. The Associated Press reported that the schedules, due to be released next week, will be regionalized and will include six-game series to limit travel and cut expenses.
“Once we receive the schedule we’ll have a better idea of what the travel will look like,” Ramshaw said. “I can’t say for sure when the schedule will be released, but I know that’s the next step.”
Each franchise’s top four affiliates will include one team at Triple-A, Double-A, high-A and low-A. MLB said that big league teams will be an average of 200 miles closer to their Triple-A affiliates, allowing most to be within driving distance of their parent team, and that the PDL licenses will help improve facilities.
According to an MLB.com story, the Fisher Cats will play in the 12-team Double-A Northeast League, which will have two divisions:
Northeast Division: Binghamton Rumble Ponies (Mets), Hartford Yard Goats (Rockies), New Hampshire Fisher Cats (Blue Jays), Portland Sea Dogs (Red Sox), Reading Fightin Phils (Phillies) and the Somerset Patriots (Yankees).
Southwest Division: Akron RubberDucks (Indians), Altoona Curve (Pirates), Bowie Baysox (Orioles), Erie SeaWolves (Tigers), Harrisburg Senators (Nationals) and the Richmond Flying Squirrels (Giants).