The Major League Baseball Players Association unanimously elected Michael Weiner executive director, making official the general counsel’s succession of longtime union boss Don Fehr.
Fehr handpicked Weiner as his replacement when he announced his retirement after 26 years on June 22. Weiner, 47, has been with the union since 1988 and has held the position of general counsel since 2004. He’s essentially served as Fehr’s righthand man, playing an active role in the past several collective bargaining agreements.
"It is with great pleasure that today we officially name Michael Weiner as our next executive director," association player representative Tony Clark said. "For more than 20 years Michael has worked diligently and tirelessly to support and defend the rights of players. We are extremely confident that the future of our union is in good hands with Michael at the helm."
Weiner’s promotion is effective immediately.
The Pirates are in the process of purchasing the Reds’ high Class A Sarasota affiliate and relocating it to their spring training complex in Bradenton for the 2010 season, a pair of sources confirmed on Wednesday. The Reds’ high A affiliate would play next year in Lynchburg, which has hosted the Pirates since 1995.
Baseball America correspondent, and Cincinnati Enquirer Reds beat writer, John Fay first reported the deal on his Reds Insider blog.
The two organizations would essentially swap player-development contracts in 2010, a provision that is in the PBA and simply requires all four teams to approve the deal. Such an approval would essentially come down to Lynchburg, since the Reds own the Sarasota affiliate. (The Red Sox and Astros pulled off a similar swap in 1999. Boston swapped its low Class A Battle Creek affiliate for the Astros’ affiliate in Augusta.)
The Reds reasoning for the sale seems to be simple. They will debut their new spring training complex in Goodyear, Ariz., in 2010, and thus no longer have a need for a team in the Florida State League. Whether they seek to relocate out West to the California League after their affiliation with Lynchburg expires after next season remains to be seen.
It would seem that the Reds best opportunities in the Cal League would be in Bakersfield (Rangers) and High Desert (Mariners), a pair of clubs looking to relocate to new homes since their local municipalities have declined to upgrade aging ballparks. Lake Elsinore (Padres), Lancaster (Astros) and Stockton (Athletics) are each locked into PDCs through the 2012 season. The Giants have an ownership stake in San Jose and the Angels and Rancho Cucamonga are a geographical match and have been affiliated since 2001, negating any possibility of the Reds moving there. That leaves Inland Empire (Dodgers), Modesto (Rockies) and Visalia (Diamondbacks) with PDCs expiring after the 2010 season.
Completion of the Sarasota sale is pending approval of the Florida State League, Minor League Baseball and Major League Baseball. Both the National Association and the FSL have received the necessary paperwork.
Both sources are confident that the Pirates’ McKechnie Field in Bradenton will be up to Minor League Baseball standards, essentially noting that if it is good enough for spring training it will likely meet PBA facility standards. In addition, the Pirates recently installed lights at the ballpark. However, part of the approval process is to provide MILB an opportunity to inspect the ballpark, one source said.
Optimism surrounding the start of the baseball season has been clouded with the reality that traditional Opening Day sellouts may soon be followed by an expanse of empty seats around big league ballparks.
The Orioles sold out today’s opener against the Yankees, but the club remains concerned that its string of decreasing annual attendance will be exacerbated by the economic downturn, the Baltimore Sun reports today. The team is introducing a variety of promotions to lure fans to what is still one of finest venues in pro sports but has become less of a destination after years of losing seasons. The team is offering free admission to kids 10-and-under every Thursday and fans can catch a game for free during their birthday month.
The Blue Jays are realistic about 2009, the Globe and Mail reports, that the team isn’t likely to contend and that attendance not continue to increase as it did every season when Paul Godfrey was at the helm.
A sign of the times? Cactus League attendance was down across Arizona from 7,436 in 2008 to 6,396 this spring.
The battle for the Bay Area just took an interesting twist.
The Giants and high Class A San Jose are set to announce at a press conference on Thursday that the big league club is purchasing a 25 percent stake in its California League affiliate. The team will have an option to purchase another 30 percent in 2010.
The timing of the announcement with Oakland’s renewed interest in building a big league ballpark in the Giants’ territory of Santa Clara County is likely a little more than coincidental, however the sides first began discussing a possible sale in Oct. 2005. They signed a letter of intent on Dec. 24, 2008, and the Giants due diligence period expired on March 31.
San Jose’s motivations are obvious: partnering with the Giants provides San Jose with capital for ballpark improvements while also raising its profile to expand the fan and corporate bases. A merger will provide San Jose the opportunity to partner with San Francisco on events like fanfests, bringing the 40-man roster to Municipal Field and having games broadcast on Comcast Sportsnet–in which San Francisco has an ownership stake.
"Those types of things have tremendous benefits to us," Giants CEO Jim Weyermann said in an interview late Wednesday night. "They can help us develop more capital partnerships with the city. In this case the Giants bring some economic leverage with untraditional city funding."
There may be nobody better—or perhaps worse, depending on your stance—to call the unveiling of the new Yankee Stadium than Bob Costas.
There is no denying that Costas is a diehard, and very knowledgeable, Yankee fan and there is no doubt that he’ll be waxing on when he returns to the baseball broadcast booth for the first time since Oct. 17, 2000. The April 16 contest against the Indians (what, the Red Sox weren’t available?) also marks Costas’ MLB Network debut.
I have to admit that I’m excited about the prospect of Costas and Harold Reynolds sharing a broadcast booth, along with Jim Kaat. It’ll also be interesting to see the MLB Network’s game production.
The MLB Network released its Thursday Night Baseball broadcast schedule, which begins April 9 with the Brewers at Giants.
Two World Series championships couldn’t bring out Marlins fans. Hopefully a new ballpark will do the trick.
After more than a decade of financial uncertainty while pushing for a permanent home, the Marlins finally landed one when the Miami-Dade Commission voted 9 to 4 to approve construction of a $634 million, 37,000-seat retractable roof stadium on the grounds of the Orange Bowl.
”Ten years is a long time. Eventually it was going to come. Wow, I’m very happy, very pleased,” team owner Jeffrey Loria told the Miami Herald.
The only remaining obstacle will be selling the necessary stadium bonds in a challenging economy by a July deadline. The county will pay the bulk of the stadium costs through tourist taxes and bond referendums while the Marlins will pay $120 million in the later years of construction and another $35 to repay the county for borrowed money.
• Miami Herald columnist Greg Cote says that with a new ballpark the Marlins are finally home.
"Our best days in the big leagues until now have been about simply having a team," Cote writes. "Monday may have been the best day of all because it was about keeping a team, finally stamping a sense of permanence on a club struggling to grow without roots."
• Sun Sentinel columnist Dave Hyde says Loria worked the count against county commissioners to get a better deal. He notes that a year ago Loria offered $212 million for a ballpark. Now the team is paying a little more than $150 million.
The Palm Beach Post’s Dave George says give Loria credit for getting a deal done.
Portland’s New Deal Could Bring Ballpark
Triple-A Portland’s hopes for a new ballpark got a boost when team owner, Meritt Paulson, was awarded a new MLS soccer team. As part of the deal, the city is required to turn PGE Park — currently home to the Beavers — into a soccer-only facility. However Paulson will need to generate over $80 million in funding for the two projects.
An article in the VV Daily Press addresses the future of high Class A High Desert, noting that it is unlikely the team will stay in town when their lease expires after the 2010 season. That is hardly news, but I did find this quote by Brett Sports CEO Andy Bilig at the bottom of the piece rather interesting.
“Nothing, absolutely nothing will change in 2009,” Billig said. “Operations, ownership, not one thing will change for 2009. Everything will remain the same for 2009. Of that we are certain.”
High Desert owner Bobby Brett recently purchased Rancho Cucamonga and said that the Mavericks are now up for sale and that they are looking to sell the team quickly. It would seem that a sale of the team could create changes in High Desert this season, depending on how long it takes to get the necessary approvals of the deal done. Brett said he expects the Rancho sale to be completed around July. (I’ll have more on this soon.)
A Sounds Investment
An interesting piece from a few days ago about how Triple-A Nashville’s new owners are counting on a new marketing blitz and $2.5 million in ballpark renovations to re-spark interest in the Sounds.
This will certainly be an interesting situation to follow, as the owners theory supports the belief that minor league officials have long been preaching: that the sport is well situated to withstand a recession, even one as great as this, because people will still be looking for local entertainment that is both family friendly and inexpensive. Whether Nashville is able to overcome the economy will certainly be a test-case for the sport’s overall health.
One of the venerable characters in minor league baseball has decided to call it quits.
Bill Valentine, who has spent the past 33 years as Double-A Arkansas’ executive vice president, announced today that he is leaving the club. The Little Rock native spent 40 years with the Travelers, working his way up from clubhouse attendant to being named general manager in 1976.
"I’ve been in baseball for almost 60 years," the 77-year-old Valentine said. "Over the past couple ofyears, I think the daily grind has gotten to me a bit. Most nights I have been the last person to leave the ballpark, and I’m usually here seven days a week. I’ve just gotten tired."
Valentine had previously expressed his interest in retiring once Dickey-Stephens Park opened in 2007, but found his services were needed in operating such an expansive, state-of-the-art facility — particularly compared to the club’s old home, Ray Windser Field.
Valentine is a six-time winner of the Texas League executive of the year award. He’ll continue to serve the rest of his term on Minor League Baseball’s board of trustees.
"I’ve been lucky to work so closely with one of the true legends of professional sports," Travs GM Pete Laven said. "I know I can speak for hundreds of people across the country when I say that we owe Bill a debt of gratitude for our careers. He saved baseball twice in Central Arkansas, and our ballpark has his fingerprints all over it."
A look at stories making headlines around the world of baseball.
• Meet the Sacramento A’s? That could be a possible scenario as Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson broaches the topic now that the Athletics have scrapped their ballpark plans for Fremont, Calif. Mayor KJ hasn’t actually spoken with Athletics ownership and was speaking in the context of what the city would do if the NBA’s Kings leave town. "If they leave for some strange reason, then we need to get somebody else in Sacramento," he said. "I don’t care if it’s the Oakland A’s, I don’t care if it’s the Golden State Warriors. We have to have a franchise, a top-notch, world-class franchise in our city because it helps elevate the profile of our city."
Meanwhile, the Mercury News reports that San Jose could be on deck as the next possible home for the Athletics. However, MLB would have to step in to make such a scenario a reality as the city remains within the Giants’ territory.
• The completion of the Nashville Sounds’ sale could mark a new era for the team and improved relationship between the club and the city. Will it also rejuvenate discussions for a new ballpark?
• The Globe’s Bob Ryan takes the Red Sox to task for seeking public financing for a new spring training home during such hard economic times in South Florida.
• Triple-A Scranton is battling a former concessionaire over a liquor license for its "Stadium Club" area.
This certainly is not good news for Memphis.
The question, which we will try and find out in the coming days, is what happens to the Redbirds now that the Cardinals have announced that they will not pursue purchasing their Triple-A affiliate, the Memphis Commercial Appeal reported. The Cardinals stated they remain interested in the team but could not justify purchasing it in the current economic climate.
"We were a little bit surprised but we understand. A lot has happened since September," Redbirds president of business operations Bill Harter said. "It’s not something against the city of Memphis or the Redbirds. It boils down to the economic situation we are in today."
Before the start of the season, I spoke with Rays senior vice president of baseball operations Brian Auld about how the team hoped to attract fans to the ballpark for an article in our Major League Preview issue. With the Rays set to play before packed houses in the American League Championship Series, I thought it would be interesting to check in again with Auld and get his take on how the season went off the field.
Evaluating how the Rays fared off the field is a more complex process than the simple wins and losses that reveal the team’s best season on the diamond in their 10-year history.
Sure, the Rays overall attendance grew by 400,000 to 1,780,791—a roughly 40 percent increase on last year’s total. However Tampa still ranked just 26th in the majors in overall attendance despite besting the Red Sox and Yankees for the AL East crown.
So, as Tampa Bay prepares to host the Boston in the American League Championship Series, would it be fair to classify the season as a success? [...] Continue Reading »
Looks like Double-A Connecticut took the surprise out of Double-A Carolina’s player-development contract press conference tomorrow by announcing that the Defenders will once again be a Giants affiliate. That means the Reds will be coming to Zebulon to replace the outgoing Marlins.
The Giants and Connecticut have been together six years, and despite the delay of the announcement, the clubs insist their relationship is strong. Their new two-year PDC runs through the 2010 season.
“The Giants organization and our minor league players and coaches appreciate the hard work of the Connecticut front office staff and the support of City leaders and fans in Connecticut,” Giants farm director Bobby Evans said in a release. “We have a lot of young talent ready to be tested at a (Double-A) level and look forward to the 2009 season in Norwich.”
So this settles the Double-A picture, leaving only the short-season level to iron out its final two affiliates. I’d expect Salem-Keizer (Giants) and Jamestown (Marlins) to each renew their PDCs.
Once the shuffle comes to an end, we’ll take a look at which teams stand to gain the most with their new affiliations—and which clubs may have taken the biggest hit.
In the meantime, my hometown Nationals have taken a beating in the local papers (and rightfully so, I’d say) over their paltry attendance figures at their brand-new, publicly funded ballpark. First The Washington Times reported that the Nationals’ disastrous season has not been limited to the playing field. Today, The Washington Post reports that the Nats are on the verge of posting the worst cumulative attendance of any team at a new ballpark since the Orioles opened Camden Yards in 1992.
Nationals team president Stan Kasten dismisses the hoopla as merely an answer to a trivia question. "I think given where our record is," Kasten told The Post, "I’ve been thrilled with our attendance."
Of course, the Nationals’ record is not some meteorological phenomenon out of their control but rather the result of a lackluster lineup. The Nationals certainly had plenty of rebuilding after Major League Baseball ran the franchise into the ground, but the 2008 opening of Nationals Park certainly did not come as a surprise to the club and you’d think fielding a competitive team would have been a priority. Meanwhile focusing your plans on player development and failing to sign your top draft pick is not a recipe for success, or confidence—the team could very well end up with the No. 1 overall pick in 2009.
In other news, Double-A Carolina will announce its affiliation with either the Reds or Giants at a press conference tomorrow. Double-A Trenton yesterday announced a new six-year affiliation with the Yankees. Teams cannot sign a player development contract longer than four years. However Minor League Baseball spokesman Steve Densa told me that the Thunder signed a two-year and a four-year PDC at the same time, post-dating one of them.
Only the short-season circuit will remain unsettled after tomorrow’s announcement, with the Giants and Marlins still unsigned, and Jamestown and Salem-Keizer available.
The high Class A affiliation scene is also apparently settled, as the Mariners have re-signed with High Desert (as pointed out by BizBlog reader Jared P). Like in Clinton, the Mariners signed a two-year player-development contract through the 2010 season. That leaves the White Sox left standing, who apparently will stay in Winston-Salem.
Lancaster’s deal with the Astros is in fact for two years with an automatic two-year renewal following the 2009 season. Both the Astros or Lancaster have the option to back out of the deal before the conclusion of the ’09 season. Brad Seymour, the former Lancaster general manager who now oversees operations for both the Jet Hawks and low Class A Lake County within the Peter Carfagna ownership group, said the club was looking for some stability with its affiliation after losing the Red Sox following just a two-year relationship.
"Our first priority was wanting to create a long-term affiliation," Seymour said. "Houston immediately wanted to step up and create a long-term relationship . . . We didn’t want to become an affiliate that is a revolving door."
The player-development shuffle has turned into a sprint, as few questions remain after teams have quickly lined up affiliations. Only two affiliates remain up for grabs in each of the Double-A, high Class A and short-season levels.
The latest signings:
Triple-A completed its affiliation signings over the weekend, the most notable movement including the Blue Jays heading West to Las Vegas.
Double-A Trenton and the Yankees will announce a renewal of their player-development contract at a new conference today, with Yankees GM Brian Cashman expected to be in attendance. Trenton owner Joe Finley had long said the deal was never in jeopardy, rather it was just a matter of the Yankees finding time to complete it—apparently the closing of Yankee Stadium had kept them busy.
This morning’s festivities in Buffalo will complete the player development shuffle on the Triple-A level. The Bisons will welcome the Mets to town amid much fanfare, with New York governor David Paterson, Mets owner Fred Wilpon and GM Omar Minaya expected to be on hand.
The other pieces of the Triple-A puzzle fell into place over the weekend when Syracuse and the Nationals, the Marlins and New Orleans, and the Blue Jays and Las Vegas each agreed to player-development contracts.
Las Vegas hardly seems to be welcoming the Blue Jays with open arms. Still stinging by the departure of the Dodgers, which obviously was a better geographic fit with a base of fans already in place in Las Vegas, 51s president Don Logan accepted the relationship for what it is: a last resort.
"It is what it is. We’re going to make the most of it," Logan told the Las Vegas Review Journal. "Obviously there are a lot more Dodgers fans here than Blue Jays fans . . . but we’re going to try to do some more things promotionally, and we want to grow the business."
Let’s get a few more updates in before everyone heads out for the weekend.
The Mets and Buffalo plan to make their partnership official at a press conference on Monday. This leaves three Triple-A markets still open: Syracuse in the International League and New Orleans and Las Vegas in the Pacific Coast League, with the Blue Jays, Marlins and Nationals still seeking affiliates.
Teams Still Unsigned: Blue Jays, Marlins, Nationals
Buffalo Bisons – Mets (PDC through ????)
Charlotte Knights – White Sox (2010)
Columbus Clippers – Indians (2012)
Durham Bulls – Rays (2010)
Gwinnett County – Braves (owned by Atlanta)
Indianapolis Indians – Pirates (2012)
Lehigh Valley IronPigs – Phillies (2010)
Louisville Bats – Reds (2010)
Norfolk Tides – Orioles (2010)
Pawtucket Red Sox – Red Sox (2010)
Rochester Red Wings – Twins (2010)
Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees – Yankees (2010)
Syracuse Chiefs – Blue Jays (2008)
Toledo Mud Hens – Tigers (2010)
PACIFIC COAST LEAGUE
Albuquerque Isotopes – Dodgers (2010)
Colorado Springs Sky Sox – Rockies (2010)
Fresno Grizzlies – Giants (2010)
Iowa Cubs – Cubs (2012)
Las Vegas 51s – Dodgers/Vacant (2008)
Memphis Redbirds – Cardinals (2012)
Nashville Sounds – Brewers (2010)
New Orleans Zephyrs – Mets (2008)
Oklahoma RedHawks – Rangers (2010)
Omaha Royals – Royals (2010)
Portland Beavers – Padres (2010)
Round Rock Express – Astros (2010)
Sacramento River Cats – Athletics (2010)
Salt Lake Bees – Angels (2012)
Tacoma Rainiers – Mariners (2010)
Tucson Sidewinders – Diamondbacks (2010)
That’s B as in Buffalo.
The Bisons (my spell check says that should be Bison) have called a press conference for Monday morning to announce the signing of a player-development contract with a new affiliate. Our main man Adam Rubin has said for days the deal with the Mets is done, so there is little reason to assume that Buffalo is going to announce a partnership with anybody else.
So where does this impact the Triple-A scenario?
Three markets are still unsigned: New Orleans and Syracuse in the International League and Las Vegas in the Pacific Coast League, with the Blue Jays, Marlins and Nationals still in need of a Triple-A home. Rumors have circulated that the Marlins and New Orleans have essentially agreed to a deal, which would leave the Nats and Blue Jays presumably competing for Syracuse. The loser would have to send their affiliate all the way to Vegas into one of the worst Triple-A facilities.
Before we get to player-development shuffle updates, I just saw that Major League Baseball is relocating the Civil Rights Game from Memphis to Cincinnati’s Great American Ballpark in June. The news must be hard to take for the Redbirds—who lose out on hosting one of their bigger events of the year—particularly since the game was the brainchild of team president Dave Chase.
MLB’s Jimmie Lee Solomon gets a lot of the public credit for the game, particularly from Bud Selig, and he did a lot to make it a reality. But the idea and creation of the event was all Chase’s, and it seems like Memphis should have had another opportunity to make an event that had been marred by poor weather in each of the past two seasons a bigger success.
On to the shuffle . . .
For months the rumors have been swirling about who is going where:
Well, yesterday marked the official opening of the player development shuffle and several teams wasted little time to move shop.
That’s the word from Braves executive vice president of business operations Mike Plant, who said the team filed its paperwork to release the territory a few days after the R-Braves season finale at The Diamond on Sept. 1.
"We sent all the documents to the International League and Minor League Baseball," Plant said in an interview this afternoon. "That has taken place. We wanted to wait until we were comfortable (with ballpark construction in Gwinnett). That happened a couple days after our last game in Richmond."
However the deal is not done. The territory is officially the property of the International League, and it still has some business to take care of before it’s ready to let go. Namely, the IL still has to formally approve the Braves’ relocation to Gwinnett—a move that league president Randy Mobley said is expected to be completed on Tuesday when the IL board of directors meet in Oklahoma City during Bricktown Showdown festivities.
The vote should be little more than a formality, considering the Braves have terminated their lease in Richmond and begun stadium construction in Gwinnett.
Minor League Baseball spokesman Steve Densa wrote in an e-mail correspondence that the International League has given permission for outsiders to begin discussions about relocating to Richmond.
"The Braves and International League have given permission for leagues, owners or prospective owners to have discussions about relocating a club to Richmond pending approval of their relocation to Gwinnett County," Densa wrote. "Leagues, owners and prospective owners need to request and be granted permission to explore by their league and the Minor League Baseball president."
Plant said that ballpark construction in Gwinnet is ahead of schedule and that he fully expects it to be ready in time for the G-Braves home opener on April 17. One explanation for the Braves’ delay in releasing the territory had been the need for a backup plan. The Braves are on the road during Gwinnett’s first home series and the Triple-A affiliate will play at Turner Field if the new ballpark is not ready, Plant said.
One reason for the delay in finding a replacement for the Braves in Richmond has been the team and International League’s hold on the territory, which prohibits other clubs from negotiating with the city. Expect things to move along a bit more quickly after the vote on Tuesday—MILB president Pat O’Conner said he expects a decision on Richmond within the next 30-45 days.
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