'Business as usual': What MLB's lockout means for Iowa's three minor league teams

Tommy Birch
Des Moines Register

Iowa Cubs president and general manager Sam Bernabe’s staff spent the first day of the Major League Baseball lockout selling season tickets, lining up sponsorships and preparing for the 2022 Minor League Baseball season.

Just as they would any other December.

"It’s going to be business as usual for us moving forward unless something else changes," Bernabe said.

MiLB officials are hoping nothing else changes after owners voted unanimously to lock out the players after the Collective Bargaining Agreement expired at 11:59 p.m. ET Wednesday night. It's MLB's first work stoppage since the 1994-95 player strike that led to the cancelations of the 1994 World Series and a shortened 1995 season. 

The lockout, which brought the offseason to a screeching halt, prevents teams from making any transactions with 40-man players. But even though MLB is at a standstill while the players and owners try to reach an agreement, life is moving on in MiLB. And it’ll continue to do so.

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Baseball's latest work stoppage won’t prevent minor league teams from holding minicamps, spring training or extended spring training for players that are not on the 40-man rosters. So, Iowa's three minor league teams — the Iowa Cubs, Cedar Rapids Kernels, an affiliate of the Minnesota Twins, and Quad Cities River Bandits, an affiliate of the Kansas City Royals — are expected to play in 2022, even if the lockout carries over deep into 2022 and impacts the MLB season.

The Iowa Cubs and the state's other two minor league teams are planning for a 2022 season even with MLB's lockout starting.

If it comes to that, there would be noticeable changes with the rosters. Members of the 40-man roster wouldn't be used. The CBA only impacts players that are a part of the MLB Players Association, which is made up of all big-league players and anyone that is a member of a team's 40-man roster. Some players on the 40-man roster, like Iowa infielder Christopher Morel, make up part of the active roster. But a big bulk of them, including Cubs outfielder prospect Brennen Davis, do not. So, the chance to see baseball and some of the game's top prospects could still happen. 

"I've spoke with our major league affiliate and they assured us that everything in the minor leagues would go on as status quo," Kernels general manager Scott Wilson said.

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That’s why there isn’t much concern over another MiLB season being canceled due to the lockout. MiLB teams are still reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to the cancelation of the 2020 season and a delayed start to the 2021 season. Valuable time has already been missed for player development. And many minor league teams are still trying to make up financial ground from the lost time. 

"It would be a disaster for minor league clubs if there was, for some reason, a work stoppage at the league level," Bernabe said. "(But) right now, that's not part of the deal."

Tommy Birch, the Register's sports enterprise and features reporter, has been working at the newspaper since 2008. He's the 2018 and 2020 Iowa Sportswriter of the Year. Reach him or 515-284-8468. Follow him on Twitter@TommyBirch.