Opening Day in Buffalo was missing a regular tradition this year. Sure, fried bologna sandwiches were a hit as always at the concession stands and Buster the mascot was as entertaining as ever.
However, unlike the four previous times that Buffalo’s player development contract with the Cleveland Indians had expired, no announcement of a new deal was announced as part of the season-opening festivities.
In fact, the Indians announced that no decision will be forthcoming until after the season—an indication that rumors circulating that the Indians will begin 2009 in Columbus’ brand-new ballpark (pictured at right) may be accurate.
Major league teams cannot negotiate with unattached affiliates until after the season and, according to the Professional Baseball Agreement teams are forbidden from discussing pending PDCs. The Bisons e-mailed a release that will serve as their only comment on the lack of a deal with the Indians—they also attached sections of the PBA regarding player development contracts.
"Our Player Development Contract with the Cleveland Indians is in effect through this season and we are looking forward to working with them to provide our fans with another competitive team to cheer for," the release stated. "The Bisons remain committed to providing our fans with the best possible sports and family entertainment experience at every event this season and for many seasons to come.
"We recognize that having a strong Major League partner is important to our success and we will address our future Major League affiliation at the completion of this season, in accordance with the timetable set forth in the Professional Baseball Agreement."
There is little reason to believe Buffalo wouldn’t want to re-up with the Indians. Buffalo has thrived on and off the field during its 14-year relationship with the Cleveland. The Bisons have certainly reaped the rewards from one baseball’s best farm systems: they have won three International League titles and seven division titles since affiliating with the Indians in 1995. Buffalo has also been a winner at the gate in recent years: It ranked fifth in attendance in the International League in 2007 by drawing 572,635. In 2006, the Bisons drew 607,929—the third-highest total in the IL.
Indians general manager Mark Shapiro was equally vague regarding the Tribe’s future in Buffalo.
“Our primary focus and commitment there is, as it always is, to maintain the best product on the field for the fans of Buffalo and for our focus of developing major league players,” Shapiro told The Buffalo News. “Our primary feeling about Buffalo is that they’ve been an outstanding long-term partner. We could not have asked for a more supportive and professional group of people to work with. All we said today is under the guidelines of player development contracts, Major League Baseball and the National Association, we’re going to wait until the end of the season before we further pursue solidifying that agreement or explore [going] elsewhere.”
The Indians seem like a natural fit in Columbus. Besides playing in brand new, state-of-the-art Huntington Park, the Indians will have its Triple-A affiliate an hour closer to home—Columbus is two hours south of Progressive Field, compared to three hours from Buffalo.
The $55 million Huntington Park will likely be among the premier ballparks in Triple-A. The three-level park will feature 32 suites, a variety of sightlines (including one from street outside the park where passersby can watch for free), a children’s pop-up fountain and a high-definition videoboard.
The downtown stadium will seat 10,000 and replaces aging Cooper Stadium (circa 1977).
Buffalo likely will have options if the Indians do in fact leave town—11 other teams have yet to renew a PDC and the Bisons have proven to be a quality host. The Rays and Durham extended their deal another two years, the Mets have been rumored through newspaper reports to be interested in replacing the Blue Jays in Syracuse, and the Phillies and Lehigh Valley have geographic incentives to remain partners. The Twins and Rochester have a successful relationship dating back to 1993. Other teams with a strong relationship to their current affiliate include, the Royals and Omaha (since 1969), the Twins and Rochester (1993), and the Mariners and Tacoma (1995).
Assuming the above PDCs are renewed, the following teams could be available to play in Dunn Tire Park next season: the Nationals, Blue Jays, Marlins, Dodgers, Padres and Cardinals (Memphis reportedly turned down an extension with the Cardinals prior to this season because of a dissatisfaction with the level of talent being sent their way).
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