Minor League Baseball cancels season, Reno Aces look to 2021

Looking through the locked gates of Greater Nevada Field in Reno, NV. The Minor League Baseball season was indefinitely postponed due to the novel coronavirus pandemic - photo: Brian Bahouth/The Ally

As a 60-game Major League Baseball season is poised to get underway, Minor League Baseball Triple-A affiliates across the nation yesterday announced the cancellation of the 2020 season, to include the Reno Aces.

The number of players on a Major League Baseball team is highly proscribed and has an operational relationship with a Minor League Triple-A affiliate. Players regularly shuttle between the major and minor league clubs throughout the course of the season.

The Reno Aces are the Triple-A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Arizona Diamondbacks employ the players who play for the Aces.

Traditionally, there are 25 players on a Big League active roster. Even before the onset of the novel coronavirus, the number of active players per team was set to expand to 26 in 2020, though under the rules for an abbreviated season, each Big League team will open the 2020 season with 30 active players and maintain a pool of 60 players.

During normal seasons, in addition to the active 26-man roster, Big League teams maintain what is known as a 40-man roster. The 40-man roster is made up of players who are on the active roster and those on the 7, 10, or 15-day injured lists. Players on bereavement or family or medical emergency are also on the list, along with some Minor Leaguers.

What is known as a Player Development Contract [PDC] establishes the affiliation between the Major and Minor League clubs. At the Single-A, Double-A and Triple-A levels, there are some 160 teams that have PDCs with Big League teams.

Under the PDC, the Aces’ ownership is responsible for the management of all business aspects of operations such as gameday activities, promotions, broadcasting, field maintenance, concessions and the like.

The Diamondbacks organization make all player development decisions. The D’backs select the coaching staff and decide which players to assign to the Aces.

Ticket stations at the main entrance to Greater Nevada Field in Reno, NV, home to the Reno Aces and Reno 1868 FC soccer club – photo: Brian Bahouth/The Ally

Typically, a Major League team plays 162 regular season games. A Minor League club like the Aces play a shorter season of 140 games that run from early April to the first week of September.

Emily Jaenson is general manager of the Reno Aces and one of two female Triple-A general managers in all of baseball. She said in a phone interview that the Major League teams to include the D’Backs could not surmount the manifold logistical challenges of organizing an abbreviated season. The Aces and Minor League Baseball will simply not have players.

“We are an affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks, and Arizona provides us our players each season,” Jaenson said. “So during this time, Major League Baseball advised it would not provide players to the teams of Minor League Baseball due to the many COVID-19 related challenges that would accompany staffing our team’s roster for two a month season.”

Major League teams will hold a 60-game regular season in 2020. Each team will maintain a 60-man roster. That means many Minor League players will not play baseball in 2020.

The opportunity costs are significant for player development, and more, since 1901, there has never been a summer without Minor League Baseball, until this year.

“My heart goes out to the players who don’t have an opportunity to play professional baseball in 2020,” Jaenson said. “I know that they’ll continue to work hard on their own this year. I know they’ll stay in touch with their affiliate. They’ll still be considered a part of the system. And, you know, they’ll get an opportunity again next spring to play professional baseball.”

The Major League Baseball Players Association has a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) with Major League Baseball to delineate the rules of employment. The current CBA concludes at the end of the 2021 season.

Contentious negotiations between players, the league and ownership over details of the coronavirus-shortened 2020 season portend rocky talks when the next CBA is negotiated. There have been 22 labor-related work stoppages in Major League Baseball since the first CBA was signed in 1968. The 1994 season ended on August 12 and did not resume until the following year. Does the Big League CBA matter for Minor League clubs?

“We certainly watch it closely,” Jaenson said. “However, the players who are part of the bargaining agreement are on the 40 man roster, so the majority of minor league baseball players are not a part of that negotiation. And as you’ll remember, when we did have the Major League Baseball strike, the Minor League system was able to get up and running because in a unique way, it operates outside of, that 40 man, Major League Baseball roster.”

The Aces played their first home game on April 17, 2009. The stadium construction was a public/private partnership. In order to fund construction of the $55 million stadium, Washoe County issued roughly $30 million in bonds backed by a 2 percent tax on rental cars. Sixty-five percent of sales tax collected in the stadium is rebated to the developer. Roughly $2.5 million dollars a year in property tax was intended to help pay down initial construction costs.

In the wake of the Great Recession of 2008, the deal with the City of Reno and Washoe County to subsidize the construction of the 9,100-seat stadium had to be reconsidered.

In 2015, SK Baseball LLC, owner of the Aces, reached an agreement with Washoe County to pay 5 years of back taxes on the stadium totaling nearly $2 million. The county waived $803,678 in penalties and interest on the tax debt.

The Reno Aces Ballpark was officially renamed Greater Nevada Field on March 16 of 2016 when the Greater Nevada Credit Union bought the naming rights to the stadium, which came with a financial windfall of $300,000, according to a report in the Reno Gazette Journal.

Unlike Major League teams, Minor League clubs like the Aces do not have lucrative television contracts as part of their revenue stream. Minor League clubs rely on ticket and concession sales to make money. Will the Aces, as a business, be able to endure an entire season without playing a game?

“We can’t wait to welcome you back to the ballpark to watch your Reno aces next season,” Emily Jaenson said. “So, we will be here. We will be back, and I can say with 100 percent of surety that there’s nothing to worry about in that regard (regarding the solvency of the Aces).


Brian Bahouth is the founding editor of the Ally and has been a public media journalist since 1996. Support his work.