The Reds stay in the Carolina League was brief.
After only one season in Lynchburg, the Reds are headed west to the California League (most likely landing in Bakersfield) after the three remaining Carolina League affiliates were snatched up.
As expected, the Rangers pulled out of Bakersfield after their four-year player development contract expired and will sign on with Myrtle Beach—the Carolina League affiliate owned by new Rangers managing partner/CEO Chuck Greenberg. Meanwhile, the Braves, who had been in Myrtle Beach since 1999, signed a four-year PDC with Lynchburg. That left Kinston, which extended by two years its partnership with the Indians—a relationship that dates back to 1987.
Just three high Class A affiliates remain available, all in the Cal League: Bakersfield, Inland Empire (Dodgers) and Rancho Cucamonga (Angels). Speculation has been that Rancho, under the new ownership of Bobby Brett, is interested in hooking up with the Dodgers. That would likely send the Angels to Inland and leave the Reds in Bakersfield.
Bakersfield remains the least popular high A affiliate because of aging Sam Lynn Ballpark (the team recently sent out a tweet celebrating the stadium's 70th birthday). The stadium no longer meets facility standards. Games often can't start until the sun sets because the batter's eye faces west. And, despite Cal League president Charlie Blaney's best efforts, no suitor has stepped forward to build a new ballpark.
(A complete chart of affiliations can be found here.)
In other affiliation shuffle news:
* The Blue Jays are leaving short-season Auburn (New York-Penn) and headed to Vancouver (Northwest).
* The Astros continue to eye Oklahoma City (Pacific Coast) as its new Triple-A home.
* The Brewers are set to announce an extension with Double-A Huntsville (Southern), by default, despite concerns about the condition of Joe Davis Stadium.
If flat is indeed the new up, then Minor League Baseball had one hell of a season.
The days of setting attendance records annually may be gone, but the sport did an admirable job of weathering a difficult economy in 2010. MILB's 15 leagues (including the Triple-A Mexican League) drew 41,452,436 fans this season, a modest 0.5 percent decrease from last year's total of 41,644,518.
"Once again, Minor League Baseball is showing its resiliency in the current economic conditions," Minor League Baseball president Pat O'Conner said. "While the economy sputters in many areas of the country, our fans continue to respond to our product. For Minor League Baseball to be down less than 1 percent in season attendance is truly a testament to the loyalty of our fans and the work of our teams."
The minors remain well behind its pre-recession glory days. That's when the sport, amid a ballpark building boom, set attendance records for five consecutive seasons—culminating in 2008 with a total of 43,263,740. But it appears to be heading in the right direction. More teams saw an increase at the gate this season than last, with 63 of 160 teams averaging more fans this season. In 2009, just 58 of 160 teams increased their average attendance.
O'Conner noted that the sport may very well have seen an overall increase if not for 100 rainouts in August. However, the minors would have certainly fallen even further behind its 2009 total if not for the performance of a handful of teams.
Triple-A Round Rock is expected to confirm a summer's worth of rumors on Thursday by announcing that it will end an 11-year relationship with the Astros to sign a player-development contract with the Rangers.
The affiliation unites two Nolan Ryan-owned ballclubs: The Express are guided by the Ryan-Sanders ownership group and the Rangers finally became Ryan's after he and veteran minor league operator Chuck Greenberg completed an arduous process to purchase the
The move will come on the first day of a 15-day period when teams are allowed to negotiate player development contracts with other clubs and likely will be the biggest move of the affiliation shuffle. It also ends an era in Oklahoma City, Texas' Triple-A affiliate since 1983 and the home ballpark of the Triple-A National Championship game.
The Orioles era in Bluefield came to a close after 43 years last week when Baltimore decided to trim its number of affiliates down to six and exit the Appalachian League.
It didn't take long for a new era to begin.
The Blue Jays announced today that they have agreed on a four-year management agreement with Bluefield, a move that adds a seventh affiliate to an organization that has rededicated its focus on player development and scouting under new general manager Alex Anthopoulos.
"This is another example of our commitment to scouting and development as the driving force to move our organization forward," vice president of baseball operations Tony LaCava said. "The first step was to invest in our scouting staff, then allocating resources to the first year player draft and amateur free agents. Next year we will take another step forward by expanding to seven minor league affiliates. Bluefield is a tremendous partner for us and presents a great opportunity for our young men to develop."
Toronto joins the Appalachian League for the first time since the 2006 season, when the club pulled out of Pulaski shortly before the Winter Meetings under former general J.P. Ricciardi. The move came too late in the year for the league to find a replacement and forced it to play a nine-team schedule in 2007 before the Mariners brought baseball back to Pulaski in 2008.
Toronto had expressed interest about returning to the Appalachian league to league president Lee Landers during last year's Winter Meetings. When Landers told Blue Jays farm director Charlie Wilson about Baltimore's decision in late August, both Wilson and minor league pitching coordinator Doug Davis were in Bluefield checking out the field the next day.
"Like anything else, it's nice to be wanted," Landers said. "With Toronto, I didn't have to do a selling job. They know all about the Appalachian League. The front office staff that is there now isn't the reason they left Pulaski in (2006). They have made an aggressive dedication to their scouting and player-development staff and they felt coming to Bluefield is in the team's best interest."
Wilson and Davis were back in town this morning for a press conference, along with pitching instructor (and former Cy Young Award winner) Pat Hentgen. The team announced that Dennis Holmberg will manage the team in 2011 after spending nine season with short-season Auburn (New York-Penn League).
The Blue Jays and Bluefield still need to formalize the agreement, Landers said. Appalachian League teams do not sign player-development contracts like most minor league circuits, but instead are operated by their major league affiliate.
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