Change is coming to the Midwest League.
Minor league and major league teams are going through their bi-annual renewal of affiliations this year, and stability has been the watchword at the higher levels, with one swap at Triple-A (Blue Jays to Buffalo, Mets to Las Vegas) and no changes in Double-A. Most teams have renewed their player-development contracts with their existing partners.
That won't be as true at the low Class A level, however. In the Midwest League in particular, six of the league's 16 teams did not renew their affiliations and entered the free agency period that began last Sunday without a partner. (It's important to note here that Major League Baseball guarantees 30 affiliations at the Triple-A, Double-A, high Class A and low Class A levels, so no team is in danger of not having a major league affiliate. It's just a question of whether a team gets its first choice.)
The Cedar Rapids Kernels split from the Angels after 20 years and signed a four-year player-development contract with the Twins, who will leave Beloit after eight years. The Kane County Cougars, who two years ago signed on with the Royals, confirmed a rumor that leaked out weeks ago by signing on with the hometown Cubs through 2014. The Peoria Chiefs were the losers when the Cubs left for Kane County, but they salvaged things by reuniting with the Cardinals, their affiliate before the Cubs came to town in 2005. The Cardinals leave Quad Cities after eight seasons there.
When the Royals got squeezed out of Kane County, they decided to move to the South Atlantic League rather than reuniting with their previous Midwest League affiliate in Burlington. The Lexington Legends, the lone team in the South Atlantic League that was on the market, are expected to announce their affiliation with the Royals today. Lexington had been an Astros affiliate since the franchise debuted in 2001.
That leaves three available Midwest League franchises—Beloit, Burlington and Quad Cities—with three major league organizations: the Angels, Astros and Athletics. The Athletics have been in Burlington the last two seasons and could decide to remain there.
The Cubs’ move to Kane County had been rumored for over a month, and the two clubs drew the ire of Minor League Baseball president Pat O’Conner for apparently negotiating a deal before they were officially allowed to do so. The agreement, formally announced by both sides yesterday, makes sense for both Chicago and Kane County. The Cubs will have players just 40 miles from Wrigley Field in Geneva, Ill. And partnering with the beloved Cubbies should provide a boost at the gate for Kane County, which finished third in the Midwest League by drawing 391,102 fans but saw average attendance dip 8.75 percent to 5,587 this season.
"I would definitely say we could draw more fans," Kane County general manager Curtis Haug told Brookfield (Ill.) Suburban Life newspaper. "There are a lot of Cubs fans around here, and I know they're excited. The Cubs have some phenomenal young players that fans are excited to see play."
Reports that the Cubs planned to leave Peoria after eight years initially caught Chiefs management off guard, but the team landed on its feet by signing on with the Cardinals. The Chiefs and Cardinals spent 10 years together before Peoria decided to partner with the Cubs in 2005. For the Cardinals, the opportunity to return to Peoria was too great to pass up, farm director John Vuch said.
“It was a tough decision, because it was not like we were trying to get out of Quad Cities,” Vuch told the Quad-Cities Times. “It was an opportunity for us to move closer to St. Louis, and that makes sense for our organization . . . We are definitely excited about going to Peoria, but we had a lot of good things happen for us in Quad Cities. We had some good teams, some very good years, and good support from the staff, the fans and the community.”
The only change coming to the Triple-A landscape is now official.
The Mets and Las Vegas 51s (Pacific Coast) announced a two-year player-development contract last night, and the Blue Jays and Buffalo Bisons (International) followed suit this morning by inking a PDC that will run through the 2014 season.
A partnership between the Blue Jays and Bisons had been rumored throughout the season, as Toronto expressed an interest in moving their top affiliate closer to home and the Bisons sought to field a winner after failing to make the postseason in four years with New York. The two teams also make a good geographic fit. As Buffalo noted in a press release today, the teams’ ballparks are just 99 miles apart and the partnership “opens up an array of marketing and regionalization opportunities for both teams.”
“We are thrilled to enter into partnership with the Buffalo Bisons organization and more specifically with (team owners) Mindy and Bob Rich who we have known for many years,” Blue Jays president and CEO Paul Beeston said in a press release. “This relationship is a natural fit, both geographically and philosophically. The Bisons are committed to winning and the Rich family to providing an environment consistent with the values we are establishing with the Blue Jays. Simply put, we are fortunate they have agreed to align with our program and we thank them for the confidence they have shown in us.”
That regional connection is what Buffalo envisioned when it teamed up with the Mets following the 2009 season. And while Buffalo did televise a half-dozen games each season on the Mets' SNY Network, attendance at Coca-Cola Field has decreased in each of the past four seasons. Buffalo averaged 7,370 fans this season—down 5.3 percent from last season and 16.3 percent from its 8,812 average in 2008.
The Bisons’ desire for a change forced the Mets on the move for the third time in six years. And with the 28 other Triple-A teams sticking with their current big league affiliates, the Mets were left with one destination: Las Vegas. The 51s play in 29-year-old Cashman Field, which lacks many of the amenities found at newer ballparks, like indoor batting cages and spacious clubhouses. And the teams attempts to replace the ballpark have been slowed by the financial recession that has hit the city hard. Ownership's agreement in principle to sell the franchise to a joint venture between the Howard Hughes Corp. and attorney Steven Mack could provide hope for a new ballpark, but that sale has been delayed by negotiations with the city over the lease at Cashman Field.
“We are looking forward to working with the New York Mets as our new affiliate,” 51s general manager Chuck Johnson said in a statement. “The Mets will continue to provide quality players for us on the field that our fans will enjoy watching play. We are also excited to have the New York 'brand' in the Las Vegas market."
The first change of the affiliation shuffle will reunite a pair of old friends.
Short-season State College (New York-Penn League) announced it has signed a player-development contract with the Cardinals after spending the past six seasons with the Pirates. The deal is for two years and will run through the 2014 season.
State College debuted in 2006 as a Cardinals affiliate after an ownership group headed by Chuck Greenberg purchased the franchise, then called the New Jersey Cardinals, and relocated it from Augusta, N.J. It had been linked to St. Louis for the previous 24 years while playing in four different cities.
"The State College Spikes are very pleased to re-kindle our partnership with one of the most well-respected and successful franchises in all of professional sports," State College chairman/managing partner Chuck Greenberg said in a press release. "The Cardinals were wonderful partners during our inaugural season and their players, coaches and other player development staff were instrumental in helping to legitimize both the Spikes brand and minor league baseball in the Centre region and all of Central Pennsylvania. The manner in which the Cardinals operate, both on and off the field, is respected and emulated by the entire baseball industry. We are excited to bring the 'Cardinal Way' to our loyal Spikes fans."
Meanwhile, Pittsburgh is left with just two options for its short-season affiliate: Jamestown (which has been with the Marlins since 2002) and Batavia (where the Cardinals had played since 2007). Neither will be particularly appealing for the Pirates after making a home at one of the NYP’s best facilities in State College’s Medlar Field. Jamestown averaged 1,031 fans, second-fewest in the NYP, while playing at 71-year-old Russell E. Diethrick Jr. Park. Batavia, which has been operated by their neighbors Triple-A Rochester (International) the past four years after nearly folding due to financial problems, averaged a league-worst 904 fans in 2012.
The countdown to the affiliation shuffle will never be mistaken for the rush of the draft signing deadline, but major and minor league teams will be making important decisions about their player-development contracts in the coming days, particularly at the Class A level.
The deadline for teams to renew affiliation agreements has passed, so free agents now know what is available, and they can officially begin negotiating new deals starting on Sunday. Teams will have two weeks to work out new deals, and they can sign two- or four-year agreements.
No Double-A franchise has changed affiliations since 2009, and that run will continue for at least another two years. The Jacksonville Suns (Southern) signed on for another two years with the Marlins just before the deadline, as did the Huntsville Stars (Southern) with the Brewers, and the Jackson Generals (Southern) with the Mariners. The Arkansas Travelers (Texas) and Angels have not announced an extension of their player-development contract, but with no other Double-A options available they'll be sticking together.
Turnover will be minimal on the Triple-A front as well, though there will be one flip. After months of speculation about where the Mets would land if the Blue Jays displaced them in Buffalo, in the end they didn't end up having a choice. Sources said the Buffalo Bisons (International) were going to end up with the Blue Jays, and with no other team making a switch, that left only the Blue Jays' previous affiliate, the Las Vegas 51s (Pacific Coast), as the Mets' Triple-A home.
While there are plenty of bright lights and opportunity for spectacle in Las Vegas, as a minor league market it's anything but glamorous. That the Blue Jays chose not to stay in Las Vegas after four years of play at aging Cashman Field is hardly a surprise, as their desire to move closer to home in Buffalo had long been rumored. Cashman Field is arguably the worst ballpark in Triple-A, and 51s ownership has tried unsuccessfully to replace it in a city hit hard by the recession. It's also 2,500 miles from Citi Field.
Changes will be more plentiful at the Class A level, though one of the biggest surprises of the process came with the Reds’ announcement that they will stay with Bakersfield (California) for two more years. The Blaze play at 81-year-old Sam Lynn Field, an outdated ballpark that averaged just 637 fans per game this season. But the team has new ownership intent on improving the situation—including the ballpark—though any changes likely would not happen before the Reds’ new contract expires following the 2014 season.
In reality, though, Cincinnati had few alternatives. The Carolina League and Florida State League will likely remain static, and they represent the only opportunities for the Reds to move their high Class A affiliate closer to home. Just two teams in the FSL had yet to announce an extension—the Daytona Cubs and Fort Myers Miracle (Twins)—but both have been affiliated with their big league partners since 1993 and are unlikely to change.
The team likely to be available in the California League is Lancaster, which is one of the most hitter-friendly parks in the minor leagues, so much so that teams have been reluctant to send their best pitchers there. The Astros may have been holding out hope that they could leave Lancaster, but it doesn't look like they'll have anywhere else to go. The Mariners announced yesterday that they had renewed their player-development contract with High Desert, and while it had not been announced, Inland Empire and the Angels are likely to renew their agreement as well.
The most change is likely to come in the Midwest League, where reports leaked early that several teams will seek out new affiliates. According to reports from various local media outlets, the Cubs are on their way out of Peoria and headed to Kane County, which had been a Royals affiliate the past two seasons, the Cardinals are cutting ties with Quad Cities, and the Angels are leaving Cedar Rapids. Several other teams also had not announced affiliation renewals, though, including Beloit (Twins), Burlington (Athletics) and Fort Wayne (Padres). In the other low Class A outpost, the South Atlantic League, just two teams had not announced renewals: Hagerstown (Nationals) and Lexington (Houston).
Change is orderly at the Triple-A, Double-A, high Class and low Class A levels because each major league team can have one and only one affiliate at each level. Short-season clubs are less predictable because teams can have two or three clubs, depending on their development philosophy, and three of the leagues are made up of major league-owned franchises. In the Appalachian, Arizona and Gulf Coast leagues, the standard affiliation rules don't apply because major league teams can add or drop their franchises in those leagues from season to season.
In the other leagues—the New York-Penn, Northwest and Pioneer—it looks like relative calm will be the order of the day, with only the NY-P likely to see any change. The Cardinals appear to be looking for an alternative to the troubled Batavia franchise. The Muckdogs have been operated by their neighors the Rochester Red Wings (International) for the past four seasons, after nearly folding because of financial troubles. The team has been on the market ever since, and while Rochester president Naomi Silver has said she has received inquiries from people who would buy and move the team, no deal appears imminent.
The Cardinals apparently will have two NY-P teams to chose from if they leave Batavia: the Jamestown Jammers (Marlins) and State College Spikes (Pirates). The Jammers would seem the more likely fit, as the Pirates are a regional draw in State College.
No spots are available in the short-season Northwest League after the Cubs and Boise Hawks extended their affiliation through 2014.
It's not often that 12th-round picks get $250,000, but Nick Peterson did it.
It wasn't for what he did on the baseball field, however, but what he did on a reality television show.
Peterson, a righthander who pitched two seasons in the Yankees system, won the ABC reality show "Bachelor Pad" last night, shocking the reality show cognoscenti by keeping the $250,000 prize money for himself rather than sharing it with his partner in the game.
Peterson attended Jesuit High in Tampa before attending Appalachian State for two years. He then transferred to the University of Tampa, where he pitched for the Spartans from 2005-06. As a member of the 2006 NCAA Division II national championship team, he had a career record of 5-2, 2.88.
Peterson became a 12th-round pick of the Yankees in 2006 and pitched for short-season Staten Island that year, going 5-3, 1.93 with 53 strikeouts and 29 walks over 37 innings. He reached low Class A Charleston in 2007, but compiled an 8.78 ERA in 13 innings of relief. He struggled with his control as a pro, with 54 walks against 88 strikeouts in 59 innings. The Yankees released him out of spring training in 2008 and he spent two years in independent leagues before his career ended.
"Bachelor Pad" features former contestants from fellow ABC shows "The Bachelor" and "The Bachelorette" who live in a house together and engage in drunken debauchery while competing in contests to winnow their ranks.
According to a release from Peterson's public-relations agency, he will celebrate his victory by returning to his hometown in Tampa for a weekend of parties. Peterson, who listed his occupation as "trainer" during his appearances on "The Bachelorette" and "Bachelor Pad," then will continue to work as an actor and model, with hopes of becoming a television host. He will also continue to work with other contestants from the show on plans to open an "all-female sports bar and restaurant" in Washington, D.C.
Affiliated Baseball may be on its way back to Ottawa after all.
Just four months after a plan to relocate an Eastern League team to Ottawa for the start of next season unraveled, the city announced yesterday that it reached an agreement in principle with the EL to bring a franchise to town in 2014.
Which team would be coming to Ottawa remains unclear. An agreement is in place for an ownership group to purchase an existing Eastern League team and relocate it to Ottawa, said Richard Billings, chief operating officer of the Boston-based brokerage firm Beacon Sports Capital Partners that has been overseeing the project. Billings declined to identify the team, saying that information will have to come from the Eastern League.
EL president Joe McEacharn did not immediately return a phone call from Baseball America but confirmed to the Ottawa Sun newspaper that an agreement had been reached between the league and Ottawa. However, he said that the league has yet to determine which franchise would be on the move. [...] Continue Reading »
After the first three months of the season, minor league baseball seemed likely to shatter last season’s attendance mark and post its first increase at the gate in four years. As the final games of 2012 are played, however, it doesn't look like that will come to pass.
According to unofficial attendance figures, minor league teams have drawn 41,164,708 fans this season, which would be 87,345 shy of last season’s figure of 41,252,053. The New York-Penn League concludes its regular season today, and the Pioneer League wraps up on Saturday, but those leagues probably don't have the attendance horsepower to make up the difference. If teams match their season averages, those two leagues would combine for an additional 60,464 fans, which would leave the sport just 26,881 below last season’s total.
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