Multiple sources close to the negotiations believe Minor League Baseball will agree to a significant reduction in teams in a Wednesday meeting with Major League Baseball, potentially signaling the end of professional baseball in Montana, according a report by Baseball America's J.J. Cooper.
MLB's proposal -- detailed by Cooper last October -- calls for elimination of 42 teams, including the entire Pioneer League, after the 2020 season. Montana's only three professional teams are in the Rookie-level Pioneer: the Billings Mustangs, Great Falls Voyagers, and Missoula Paddleheads. The Helena Brewers moved to Colorado Springs prior to the 2019 season.
Minor League Baseball denied the report Tuesday afternoon.
“Recent articles on the negotiations between MiLB and Major League Baseball (MLB) are largely inaccurate," an MiLB statement read. "There have been no agreements on contraction or any other issues. MiLB looks forward to continuing the good faith negotiations with MLB (Wednesday) as we work toward an agreement that best ensures the future of professional baseball throughout the United States and Canada.”
MiLB representatives initially scoffed at the proposal and offered to fix many issues detailed in the initial report at the baseball Winter Meetings in early December, but the MLB has never backed off its stance of contraction. Now, it appears MiLB owners are willing to accept it with eyes on a new labor agreement. The current agreement ends in September.
According to Tuesday's article, "MLB and MiLB have already found common ground on a number of the major outstanding issues that MLB deputy commissioner Dan Halem laid out publicly in a letter to members of Congress last November," notably, facilities upgrades and shortening travel.
The deal would give each Major League organization four full-season affiliates, plus one Rookie-level team at its spring training facility, according to Cooper.
Several Montana lawmakers have thrown support behind MiLB. Democrat Jon Tester and Republican Steve Daines have both signed a U.S. Senate Resolution aimed at avoiding contraction, while Montana Rep. Greg Gianforte has also advocated to avoid proposed cuts.
The lone hope fans of teams on the contraction list can cling to is a potential deal to ensure the majority of those 42 markets would still have baseball with ties to MLB. MLB's initial plan called for a "Dream League" of undrafted players, as well as wood bat leagues for college prospects in affected cities, but MiLB owners said those were not financially viable.
According to Cooper, "MiLB and MLB are now expected to discuss the parameters of a system that has been adjusted to give those cities a better chance of having a viable long-term baseball operation."