Dayton Dragons in good spot as MLB ponders cuts to minor leagues

No matter what happens next year as major league baseball tries to cut as many as 42 teams — about 25 percent — from minor league baseball, the Dayton Dragons seem positioned to survive and even remain affiliated with the Reds after 21 seasons as the low Class A Midwest League connection with Cincinnati.

Much of the rest of minor league baseball is holding its breath as the 10th year of the current Professional Baseball Agreement (PBA) comes to an end at the conclusion of the 2020 season.

Not only would several teams be asked to shut down, others would be moved to leagues of lower or higher classifications. Last season, there were 160 affiliated minor league teams in the U.S., not counting the Arizona and Gulf Coast League teams that do not charge admission to games.

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MLB wants to reduce costs and travel times between cities while improving facilities.

The Dragons began playing in 2000 and, “part of the agreement with us is we would always be a Reds affiliate,” said Dragons Vice President Eric Deutsch. “We planned to have and always plan to have the same dance partner.”

Back in 1999 when the Reds were transferring their Class A franchise from Rockford, Ill., to Dayton, some in the Reds ownership group did not want a minor league team so close to Cincinnati. Dragons’ ownership convinced the Reds a minor league team would be able to cultivate young fans for the big league club.

Over the first 20 seasons of the Dragons, the team has provided a first-class stadium and in every season has been a top-10 attendance draw. It is also strategically located near other teams, including several in Class AAA.

However, according to a plan from major league baseball that was leaked to Baseball America and the New York Times, most major league teams pay for players and staff at six minor league levels in the U.S. (Cincinnati operates seven teams, the Yankees eight) and some of those places don’t have professional-quality stadiums.

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Reds Vice President of Player Development Shawn Pender declined comment. The Reds just two years ago added Greeneville of the Appalachian League to their roster of teams.

Ironically, in initial reports, the 10-team Appalachian League is one major league baseball is considering eliminating altogether. Reds affiliates in rookie Billings, high-A Daytona and Class AA Chattanooga are also on the cut list.

“It’s a very drastic proposal,” said Jeff Lantz, senior director of communications for minor league baseball. “It’s 25 percent of minor league baseball being shown the door. We want to keep as many of the 160 teams as we can.”

Major and Minor League representatives have already met at least twice to discuss the proposals, and will meet again at baseball’s Winter Meetings beginning Sunday in San Diego.

“One thing in our favor it was a very early proposal,” Lantz said. “It gives us a chance to change some things and make things better.”

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