The top three independent leagues are now partner leagues with Major League Baseball.
Earlier this week, the Atlantic League announced their further partnership with the MLB.
ALPB Named First MLB Partner League
September 23, 2020 – Major League Baseball (MLB) announced today that it has named the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball (ALPB) its first “Partner League.” As a Partner League, ALPB will meet regularly with MLB to discuss joint marketing and promotional opportunities, including the leagues’ shared goal of providing baseball to communities throughout the United States. This designation expands the current agreement between the leagues, which permits MLB to test experimental playing rules and equipment during Atlantic League games. The existing agreement has also been extended through the 2023 season. During the 2019 season, MLB and ALPB partnered to successfully test the Automated Ball-Strike System (ABS), which used radar tracking technology to assist home plate umpires in calling balls and strikes. In addition, the Atlantic League tested rules limiting defensive shifting, mound visits, shortening inning breaks, and larger bases. “We are excited to extend our relationship with the Atlantic League, which provides us a unique means to push the sport forward,” said Morgan Sword, MLB’s Executive Vice President, Baseball Economics & Operations. “The Atlantic League clubs and players have been great partners to us as we jointly test ways to make our game even more interesting and engaging to fans.” “The Atlantic League is inspired by the evolution of its relationship with Major League Baseball and thrilled to be named their first Partner League,” said ALPB President Rick White. “We value MLB’s confidence in ALPB and look forward to advancing our sport together.”
Today, the American Association and Frontier League followed with announcements of their own.
American Association, Frontier League Designated as Partner Leagues of MLB
September 24, 2020 – Major League Baseball (MLB) announced today that it has named both the American Association and the Frontier League as “Partner Leagues” of MLB. The American Association and the Frontier League join the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball (ALPB), which was designated a Partner League earlier this week.
As Partner Leagues, the Frontier League and the American Association will collaborate with MLB on initiatives to provide organized baseball to communities throughout the United States and Canada.
Morgan Sword, MLB’s Executive Vice President, Baseball Economics & Operations, said: “We welcome the American Association and Frontier Leagues as Partner Leagues, and look forward to working with them toward our shared goal of expanding the geographic reach of baseball.”
“We look forward to our partnership with MLB incorporating the American Association into the MLB family. To grow America’s Pastime, it’s critical to bring all stakeholders in professional baseball to the table,” said American Association Commissioner Joshua Schaub. “We believe this association with Major League Baseball will culminate in a comprehensive agreement that will grow baseball and shine an even brighter light on the American Association. The American Association has already established itself as a premier professional league in North America, this partnership will only enhance the American Association’s stature among the professional baseball world.”
Frontier League Commissioner Bill Lee says, “The Frontier League is honored to become a Partner League with Major League Baseball. This partnership will be beneficial in growing our great game of Baseball in all of our United States and Canadian markets. Our teams and fans will all be excited to see the League grow in years to come. The Frontier League began in 1993, to have a relationship with Major League Baseball, is one of the greatest moments in League history.”
This could lead to a major restructuring of professional baseball across America as well as Canada.
MLB Trade Rumors and The Athletic’s Evan Drellich reported that Minor league team owners who spoke with Drellich expressed trepidation that such partnerships could be used as leverage by MLB in ongoing talks with MiLB about a new Professional Baseball Agreement between the two parties.
It’s also possible that some clubs that are cut in the inevitable, broad-reaching contraction of the lower-level minor leagues could land in the Atlantic League or other newly appointed “partner leagues,” per Drellich. A timeline on additional agreements with the American Association, Frontier League or other indie circuits isn’t clear, but the PBA between Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball expires next week.