About Those Minor League Releases

Social media presents a platform for immediate overreaction, and that was the case when word got out this week that major league teams were releasing dozens of their minor league players. Included is the Mariners, who released somewhere between 30 and 50 players, according to various reports. A complete list of players released by all teams is expected to be available publicly in a week or two.

Not to spoil the indignation of the keyboard warriors claiming this portends the end of minor league baseball, but releasing players is standard operational procedure for teams at the end of spring training. Most teams didn’t do their annual minor league cuts before the coronavirus halted the camps. The Mariners released just one minor league player before the abrupt end of spring training.

Last year the Mariners released 38 minor league players at the end of spring training, and in 2018 that number was 22. The other major league organizations made similar numbers of cuts.

Baseball player is a brutal profession. It’s really, really hard to make it to the major leagues. It’s really hard to make it to Triple-A. The players we see at Cheney Stadium have overcome a lot to reach that level, and are so close to achieving their goal. Tacoma’s players have proven themselves at five lower levels on the minor league ladder. Many hopeful big leaguers never reach Triple-A.

During a normal spring training, at the end of March the Mariners decide who is going to fill out the rosters at each of their four full-season minor league teams, and then they identify some other players they are going to keep in Arizona at “extended spring training” until their two short-season teams begin play after the draft in June. If a player doesn’t make a full-season roster and isn’t held in extended to wait for the short-season leagues to start, he is released.

Now the Mariners have made their cuts that they would have made at the end of spring training, and while that’s always tough it is also normal. Where it gets particularly bad this year is that the players who were released cannot latch on with another team right away, because nobody is playing.

Take former Rainiers reliever Darin Gillies, who announced on Twitter that he was one of the players released by the Mariners. In a normal season, Gillies would get an opportunity with another organization. He might have to wait a bit for injuries to create an opening somewhere, but eventually he would get a chance to pitch for another organization at the Double-A level at least. But this year, with no minor league baseball going at the moment, his future is cloudy.

We’ll post the released players when the names come out publicly. Typically the spring training releases are mostly lower-level players, and that will probably be the case here. It’s going to be tougher than usual for all of them, without an opportunity to get another baseball job quickly.

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