The West Virginia Power’s 2020 season is not to be. Now the question becomes whether the team will see another season as a minor league affiliate.
Minor League Baseball announced Tuesday afternoon that, due to Major League Baseball teams failing to furnish players, there will be no minor league games this season. The COVID-19 pandemic pushed the start of the MLB season to the end of this month and each team is announcing 60-man rosters.
Only those players are allowed to participate in training camp. Active rosters can hold as many as 30 players to start the season, 28 two weeks after that and 26 another two weeks after that. All players added to teams’ 40-man rosters must first have a place on the 60-man rosters. Those not on the active rosters will be able to be brought up as replacements for injury or health reasons.
Players on the 60-man roster begin training camp Wednesday, with the start of the regular season scheduled for July 23 or 24.
Minor League Baseball President Pat O’Conner said Tuesday evening that there were too many hurdles to clear for the two sides to come up with a feasible plan before time ran out.
“I don’t think it was lack of cooperation,” O’Conner said. “The problem is that neither (MLB or MiLB) can forecast and project the environment that players and fans may have to engage in. Our model is based on fans in the stands. … At the end of the day, it was an insurmountable list of challenges.”
Power managing partner Tim Wilcox said in a statement that the club was “devastated” that it would not play this season.
“Power baseball is a summer tradition for everyone in the capital city, and we wish we could provide that to the Charleston community in 2020,” he said. “However, we are unable to provide a season without players on the field.”
Power general manager Jeremy Taylor said the Power is working on hosting multiple events at Appalachian Power Park for the rest of the year, but minor league baseball must go on hiatus.
“To say we are incredibly upset is a massive understatement,” he said. “Since 1987, the Kanawha Valley has featured professional affiliated baseball every season, with the last 15 campaigns occurring at Appalachian Power Park. Our organization’s heart breaks knowing that will not be the case this year.”
With the 2020 minor league season sacked, future seasons may not include dozens of teams. Several teams in West Virginia could be on the chopping block, including the Power.
The current Professional Baseball Agreement between MLB and MiLB ends in September. The two sides have been in serious negotiations over a new deal for months, though those discussions have tailed off as MLB has worked on its return to play.
Earlier framework of a new deal included cutting 42 current affiliate teams and adding two from independent leagues. Three West Virginia teams were on that initial list — the Power, the Bluefield Blue Jays and the Princeton Rays.
Since then, according to reports, the names on that list have changed several times, though that list has never been publicly updated.
Elected officials have been trying to keep all minor league teams affiliated, including West Virginia’s. Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., is a co-chairman of the bipartisan Save Minor League Baseball Task Force in the U.S. House of Representatives. The House passed a resolution in March to have the Government Accountability Office study the “social, economic, and historic contributions that Minor League Baseball has made to American life and culture.”
In June, Gov. Jim Justice said he was “optimistic” after talking with MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred that “multiple teams” would play in West Virginia next season. He did add there was plenty of work to be done to make that a reality.
There has been talk of the teams that do get cut retaining some connection to MLB. Early drafts of the PBA mentioned a “Dream League,” a quasi-independent league where teams would be made up of undrafted players.
What troubles O’Conner is that the pandemic could add more teams to that list than either side wants to see. He said MiLB is “treading water” through the pandemic and some clubs have gone 17 months without revenue.
O’Conner said many teams are in “dire straits” and not financially solvent. He added that “north of half” of minor league teams would either have to sell or go insolvent without financial assistance. O’Conner said he sees some sunlight from how active Congress has been in trying to help. There are bills going through right now that would provide lifeline loans to teams in financial distress.
“The real concern is that, as serious as the threat from Major League Baseball was, that was objective and subjective,” O’Conner said. “This threat from the coronavirus transcends any list that any of us wants to make to the possibility of teams not being around in the future. The agreement doesn’t specify how many and the pandemic hasn’t determined how many will be left.”