Mustangs practice

Billings Mustangs third baseman Nick Senzel, now a member of the Cincinnati Reds, warms up at Dehler Park in 2016.

BILLINGS — Citing the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and its continued impact on the economic and social well-being of the country, U.S. Sen. Steve Daines of Montana is urging negotiators from Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball to find common ground — especially in the short term — in their pursuit of a new Professional Baseball Agreement.

In a letter sent Thursday to MLB commissioner Rob Manfred and minor league president Pat O’Conner, Daines asked the sides to extend the current 30-year PBA, which expires in September, for two more years to allow for the health crisis to pass before reaching another long-term deal.

“Unfortunately, COVID-19 has placed live sports in the United States at all levels at a standstill,” Daines wrote to Manfred and O’Conner. “The full impacts of a delayed or suspended season are uncertain and extending the existing PBA would help provide all sides flexibility to develop plans for professional baseball to resume and recover as quickly as possible once the health crisis subsides.

“I urge MLB and MiLB to extend the existing PBA, maintain existing minor league clubs and affiliations, and negotiate in good faith while our nation works to re-open.”

The sides have reportedly been at an impasse in negotiations.

Last fall, Major League Baseball stated its desire for a restructured minor league system, and has proposed a new agreement that would strip more than 40 MiLB clubs of their player development affiliations.

All eight Pioneer League teams — the Billings Mustangs, Great Falls Voyagers and Missoula PaddleHeads included — remain on the extinction list. Now the coronavirus outbreak is threatening the viability of the upcoming season, the 81-year-old Pioneer League’s last under the current PBA.

The latest round of the negotiations between MLB and MiLB was held April 22 via teleconference. The day prior, it was reported by both the Associated Press and Baseball America that Minor League Baseball was preparing to agree to MLB’s terms, which signaled the eventual end of the Rookie-Advanced Pioneer League and short-season baseball nationwide.

MiLB denied those reports.

Representatives from Major League Baseball were scheduled to visit Montana’s three Pioneer League cities in March, which gave hope to those fighting to save professional baseball in the Treasure State. But COVID-19 forced its indefinite postponement.

The MLB representatives were scheduled to meet with Montana’s political delegation, including Daines (who initiated the meeting) and fellow U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, Rep. Greg Gianforte and Gov. Steve Bullock.

Daines, a Republican, and Tester, a Democrat, both signed on to a bipartisan resolution authored by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), stating that the Senate, “supports the preservation of Minor League Baseball clubs across the United States” and encourages their continued player-development affiliation with MLB.

Gianforte signed a similar resolution in the House.

“As the COVID-19 pandemic has suspended both MLB and MiLB seasons for the time being and resulted in significant uncertainty and economic impact on clubs, cities, and communities across the country, I request that you come to an agreement to extend the current PBA through the 2022 season,” Daines wrote in Thursday’s letter.

“This would allow both MLB and MiLB to better assess the impact of COVID-19 on professional baseball and our communities and identify any reforms that may be warranted to help baseball recover from this crisis.”

The 2020 Pioneer League season is scheduled to begin June 19. A decision on whether it will begin on time (or be played at all) has not been announced.

Email Greg Rachac at Greg.Rachac@406mtsports.com or follow him on Twitter at @gregrachac

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