Memphis Redbirds Owner Peter Freund to Lead MiLB Move into MLB

photo: Peter Freund (Memphis Redbirds)

Major League Baseball release

Major League Baseball today (Wednesday, October 7) announced the hiring of Peter B. Freund and Trinity Sports Consultants to work directly with MLB and the owners of its licensed affiliates as Minor League Baseball’s offices transition to New York. Freund has ownership of Minor League teams at three levels, including Triple-A (Memphis), Class-A (Charleston, SC) and Short-Season (Williamsport) and is also a partner with the New York Yankees.

In his role, Freund will work with the Office of the Commissioner to help develop the framework for a more cohesive and efficient model for the development of players in all the MLB licensed markets around the country. Starting in the 2021 season, MLB will begin implementing a modern approach to player development that includes significant enhancement to the Minor League experience for fans, teams, players and communities such as renovated facilities, reduced travel burden for teams, and improved daily working conditions for players. As part of this effort, MLB has committed to preserving baseball in every community in which it is currently played and has announced that Minor League players would be receiving salary increases ranging from 38% to 72% for the 2021 season.

Dan Halem, MLB’s Deputy Commissioner & Chief Legal Officer, said: “As we look to grow the partnership between Major League Baseball and its licensed affiliates and share our resources, it has always been our intention to have Minor League ownership partner with us in shaping the future of Minor League Baseball. Peter’s reputation and experience in the industry make him exceptionally well suited to assist us in transitioning to a Minor League system that will better serve Minor League fans, Minor League players, Minor League owners, and our Major League Clubs.”

Freund said: “Minor League Baseball is part of the fabric of so many communities and integral to the development of both players and fans of this great game. This truly is a watershed moment for professional baseball and we have a unique opportunity to find common sense solutions which benefit both Major League Clubs and their Minor League partners.”

Brian Walton’s take

This move is a very important step in Major League Baseball’s initiative to assume operations of the minor leagues.

At the end of September, the Professional Baseball Agreement (PBA) expired, meaning that Minor League Baseball as an independent entity no longer represented the 160 affiliated minor league clubs.

On October 1, MLB issued the following statement:

“Although the PBA has expired, we intend to work with Minor League owners to grow the game by building a new model that will serve fans, players and communities through the United States and Canada.”

Against the backdrop of the expected move of 42 minor league teams from professional affiliation to a lower level of baseball for 2021, the St. Petersburg-headquartered MiLB had unsuccessfully tried with a variety of negotiating committees for months to broker a new PBA with MLB.

These efforts were doomed as minor league owners were divided by the uncertainty of whether their affiliations (and therefore, franchise values in the millions of dollars) would be protected going forward and the reality that they had little leverage with MLB.

Peter Freund

Minor League Baseball, formerly led by Pat O’Conner, who has retired, is being folded into Major League Baseball with the promise of more efficient and profitable operations for the 120 remaining minor league affiliates.

Now we know that Peter Freund and his organization will be in the lead of these assimilation efforts. Given Freund’s broad experience, it is an inspired choice. Expanding his baseball portfolio, he took over majority ownership of the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds prior to the 2016 season.

Many questions remain, however, including what new agreements between MLB and the independent minor league owners will look like as well as how long they will run, including how expenses and revenues will be shared. Other work items include facility upgrades, which are still needed in some locations, and the aforementioned affiliate valuations.

Fans of minor league baseball everywhere have to hope that once the turmoil of affiliated team reductions and league changes are past, that the surviving structure of minor league baseball will, in fact, be stronger.

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