The Chattanooga Lookouts appear to have survived being contracted by Major League Baseball.
Whether they get to play a 2021 season at AT&T Field is an entirely different matter.
Rob Wooten, a Milwaukee Brewers relief pitcher from 2013 to 2015 who finished his playing career with the Lookouts last year, posted this week on social media that he will be a member of Chattanooga's coaching staff in 2021. The Cincinnati Reds, the parent club of the Class AA Lookouts, have not officially announced any of their farm system staffs for next year.
"I am honored and humbled to officially join the @Reds Player Development Department and lead our pitching staff @ChattLookouts. My family and I are so excited for this next chapter in our baseball life. Thank you so much to all involved in this process! #Go Reds," Wooten wrote on Twitter.
The Lookouts were mentioned last November in a New York Times article as a potential contraction possibility, though MLB quickly stated the newspaper's list of likely casualties was inaccurate. Lookouts president Rich Mozingo said Thursday that he hasn't heard anything from MLB but is hopeful of learning something by the end of this month.
"I usually know our schedule 18 months out," Mozingo said. "We're five months out, and I don't have it."
Chattanooga never got to stage a game this year due to the coronavirus outbreak in March, which wiped out the seasons for all 162 minor league teams. ESPN national baseball analyst Tim Kurkjian is very worried about the Lookouts and other minor league franchises moving forward.
"Minor league baseball is a lifeblood of the big leagues, and I like and really understand its importance to the big leagues," Kurkjian said. "It's a pipeline to the big leagues, and that's not even mentioning how important it is to towns and cities all across this country. I'm not sure everyone totally understands that, and that's discouraging, because you need to understand that fundamental situation with minor league baseball.
"My big concern is that Major League Baseball is going to say, 'Look, we just played a season without the minor leagues and it turned out OK,' and that's a really bad attitude to have."
The 2020 MLB regular season was reduced from 162 games to 60, and each of the 30 teams designated up to 60 eligible players on their rosters, with 30 of those players on a "taxi squad."
That resulted in the Atlanta Braves having an active roster that faced National League East Division and American League East Division teams and a reserve roster that practiced at Coolray Field in neighboring Gwinnett County, which houses the Gwinnett Stripers, Atlanta's Triple-A affiliate.
Even before the pandemic, MLB announced it was reducing the number of minor league teams to 120 by the start of the 2021 season.
"I hope we get every minor league team back next year, but let's be realistic — COVID is not going away," said Kurkjian, who was a guest of "Press Row" on Chattanooga's ESPN 105.1 FM. "We see its power now, and that power is not going away. It's a miracle Major League Baseball finished the way it did. It's a miracle the NBA and NHL did as well as they did, and now we're seeing football run into this. I think COVID is the No. 1 concern for everyone, and this is going to be a long, dark, grim winter for baseball from what I can see. I hope I'm wrong, but there are some really good players who aren't going to get paid because some owners won't invest in the free-agent market after losing so much money in 2020.
"That's going to lead to hard feelings between the players and owners. I was encouraged that they came together and had this season, but I'm afraid this offseason is going to lead to issues next year and through next year, and then we'll have some really big problems in 2022."
Ballpark Digest reported this week that some changes already have taken place at baseball's Triple-A and Double-A levels. In the Double-A Southern League that has included the Lookouts since 1976, the Pensacola Blue Wahoos are switching affiliations from the Minnesota Twins to the Miami Marlins, and the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp are bumping up to become Miami's Triple-A affiliate, according to the publication.
MLB is looking to bring minor league affiliates closer to their parent clubs, which is a plus for Chattanooga given its proximity to Cincinnati.
"I'm worried about spring training starting on time, and therefore I'm worried about the minor leagues for next year," Kurkjian said. "It's just too hard to tell at this point, but all bets are off during this very complicated situation. We have a long time to get to the spring, but it's going to get here way faster than we think."