Durham Bulls general manager Mike Birling feared that the team’s moment in the sun last September when they hosted the Triple-A National Championship would be spoiled by the one element he could not control: weather.
Roughly three inches of rain fell on Durham Bulls Athletic Park during the nationally televised finale of the minor league season and diminished what Birling had hoped would be a sellout crowd. However Birling’s fears appear to have been for naught, as Triple-A Baseball is turning to the Bulls for the second time in three years for one of its signature events. Durham announced today that it has been selected to host the Triple-A all-star game in 2014 for the first time in the event’s 25-year-history.
“A year and a half ago, we had a similar press conference and we were awarded the Triple-A National Championship game. At that time, one of the things that I stressed was the importance of getting that game and the importance of the support we needed for that game, could allow us to get bigger and better things to come to the Triangle,” Birling said at a press conference this morning in the team’s home clubhouse, where jerseys of former Triple-A all-stars hung in every locker. “From the perspective of the (International and Pacific Coast) leagues, it was a tremendous event.” [...] Continue Reading »
NASHVILLE—Minor League Baseball president Pat O’Conner spent a good part of his stay in Nashville explaining the sport’s new marketing plan to his constituents during league meetings. Next up on his to-do list is finding someone to run the program.
O’Conner said Minor League Baseball has hired New York executive search company to recruit an experienced person who will lead a new marketing program designed to sell minor league baseball as a whole to major companies. The chief marketer will likely come from outside baseball, O’Conner said.
“Who we hire will be impressive, but also where we hire the person from will be impressive,” said O’Conner on Wednesday afternoon on the Trade Show floor at the Opryland Hotel. He said the first round of interviews is complete and he expects a hire to be made by early February. “This is not an easy job. I’m not opposed to it coming from within the (minor league baseball) family, but I also realize that person may not exist.”
O’Conner said the response to the new program has been positive, and discussions with various league and team executives over the course of the Winter Meetings has backed that up. The consensus seems to be that the time had come to promote the minor leagues as a whole, and not just the individual teams, and to take advantage of the minor leagues' reach into a variety of markets. O’Conner pointed out that minor league baseball, with 160 teams, plays in more midsize and smaller markets than any other professional sport and would provide access to people major advertisers have a tough time reaching.
“We have great penetration into the B, C and D markets,” O’Conner said.
The program officially began with O’Conner’s presentation at the opening session on Monday, and leaders said the effort likely won’t start generating money for two years. “We have planned for a two-year gestation period before we go to market,” O’Conner said. “We need to be sure we are prepared to go the marketplace . . . We have a great product and we want to make sure we are promoting it properly.”
Every minor league franchise will be included in the national marketing campaign, but teams are not required to pay the $15,000 investment fee. The teams that do are promised a three-to-one return on their investment as well as an annual residual return for as long as it is profitable, O’Conner said.
NASHVILLE—Just four years ago, Minor League Baseball president Pat O’Conner kicked off the Winter Meetings in Las Vegas by urging his constituents to come together as a group and approve the plan to bring every team’s Web properties under the umbrella of Major League Baseball Advanced Media.
The Baseball Internet Rights Co, which was approved that week and launched before the start of the 2009 season, appears to have validated O’Conner’s theory that the minor leagues could attract bigger and better advertisers working as one. With all but a handful of teams on board, BIRCO announced its first profitable year following the 2011 season.
O’Conner is again asking the minors to come together, this time to create an industry-wide marketing program that he predicts will attract the major corporate sponsors that MiLB has failed to land under its 20-year-old group marketing program. O’Conner announced the new marketing program—which he called Project Brand: 160 teams, one brand—and the committee of minor league executives that spent the past seven months crafting it, during the Winter Meetings opening session yesterday at the Opryland Hotel.
“As we celebrate 20 years of our national marketing program, we realize the program has served us well and accomplished things no one thought would ever be accomplished,” O’Conner said to a ballroom full of minor league owners and executives. “But we also realize we have built a brand over the last 20 years worthy of much more. The current program is effective, but lacks the resources and organizational commitment to efficiently serve this powerful brand. We owe the brand more. We owe ourselves more. It is time for a change.”
NASHVILLE–At the Winter Meetings, minor league teams typically fill out their front offices with fresh-faced job seekers eager to break into baseball. However, the Myrtle Beach Pelicans (Carolina) arrived at this year’s event at the Opryland Hotel with more serious business to tackle, like finding a new general manager.
Scott Brown left his post in Myrtle Beach last week after three seasons to take over as general manager of baseball operations for the Charlotte Knights (International), who are adding depth to their front office while preparing for life in a new ballpark. Brown takes over for veteran GM Dan Rajkowski, who was promoted to vice president/chief operating officer and will oversee the team’s transition from Knights Stadium—their home for the past 19 years, about 20 minutes south of town in Fort Mill, S.C.—to a new $54 million downtown Charlotte ballpark set to debut on Opening Day 2014.
“It’s certainly bittersweet; I love the beach. But this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Brown told the Myrtle Beach Sun News. “I think it’s the most exciting stadium project in our industry. I had a chance to walk the site and I think it’s going to be phenomenal. I don’t think there’s a better combination of stadium and city in Triple-A baseball.”
It may not have earned a projection on cable news or made a blip on John King’s interactive map, but ballpark ballot measures certainly got the vote out in Wilmington, N.C., and El Paso, Texas.
Wilmington residents overwhelmingly rejected a proposal to pay for a $37 million ballpark project through an increase in property taxes, with about 70 percent of voters opposing the referendum. The vote grinds to a halt the Atlanta Braves’ plan to purchase the Lynchburg Hillcats (Carolina) and move the franchise to Wilmington as part of a partnership with Mandalay Baseball Properties, which would have operated the franchise.
The vote brings to an end the nearly year-long Mandalay-Braves joint effort to bring affiliated baseball to Wilmington. The group first announced its plans in February, and made it clear then that public funding would be required to complete the deal. Ultimately, that ended up being the road block that killed it.
"We're very disappointed with how it went, both Mandalay and the Atlanta Braves," Mandalay Baseball CEO Art Matin said of the vote. "We thought it was a terrific opportunity for people in the city of Wilmington because we have seen it work so many times throughout minor league baseball. We think it is a lost opportunity."
The Braves and Mandalay have no plans to further pursue the project and any efforts for a new deal would have to come from within the city, Matin said. "There is not a Plan B and we're not trying to draw one up. We're not anticipating trying to resurrect the effort. This was the effort . . .
"We have stated why this (plan) makes sense and people in Wilmington have decided not to support it. We're not going any place. If someone comes up with a great idea, then we'll listen. But there is no fallback plan. There is no Plan B."
The Reading Phillies have little reason to change.
After all, this is the franchise that topped the Eastern League in average attendance last season for the sixth time in the past seven years. This is one of the best-run operations in the business, which has transformed a 61-year-old stadium into one of the premier venues in the minors through a series of renovations—including a $10 million facelift before last season. And this team, beloved in its community, puts on one of the best shows in the minors with a cast of characters that includes the Crazy Hot Dog Vendor and the Mascot Band.
Yet, ready or not, change is coming to Reading. For the team announced over the weekend that, after 46 years as the Phillies, it is changing its name as part of a major rebranding effort.
"We've come to realize we want our fans to be able to have their own brand," Reading general manager Scott Hunsicker told the Reading Eagle. “We want to be able to celebrate our association with the Philadelphia Phillies, yet at the same time give our fans their own name so that they can wave their flag even more proudly as fans of the Reading franchise."
The team will unveil the new name, logo and uniforms on Nov. 17. They’re partnering with the sports marketing firm Brandiose (formerly Plan B Branding), which they have worked with on previous projects including new logos and jersey prior to the 2008 season. Brandiose is a creative outfit that was behind the name and logos for the Lehigh Valley IronPigs and Richmond Flying Squirrels—a pair of the more unique monikers in the competitive minor league landscape, but also two of the more successful franchises in the sport. Klein indicated that Reading’s new name won’t be quite as outlandish as those two, but rather will play off of Reading’s history and tradition.
Charlie Blaney has often said that Bakersfield could be the best market in the California League, if only it had a new ballpark. The former Dodgers farm director and third-year Cal League president will now get a chance to prove his point.
The Blaze are building a new ballpark.
The privately financed venue is expected to cost $20 million and is scheduled to open during the 2014 season as part of a larger mixed-use community to include retail, entertainment and residential. The ballpark will include the typical bells and whistles of modern stadiums—including luxury suites, group-seating areas, a playground and special-event space that can be used year-round—and has been in the works since local businessmen Gene Voiland and Chad Hathaway purchased the club from the Elmore Sports Group in early March. The Blaze plan on breaking ground early next year. They'll spend 2013 at Sam Lynn and could open 2014 there if the new venue is not completed in time for Opening Day.
“If you and I were starting a California League today, Bakersfield would be one of the first places we would put a team,” Blaney said. “It’s centrally located in the state. It has its own media market. It has a population of 450,000 people within an hour’s drive . . . This is why the league been so patient with trying to keep affiliated baseball there.”
Specifically, it is why Minor League Baseball has allowed the Blaze to stay at Sam Lynn Ballpark, the team’s 71-year-old home that no longer meets facility standards and is considered among the worst stadiums in the minors. Bakersfield averaged just 637 fans in 2012—which was actually an 11 percent increase from the previous season and was the lowest among full-season teams. The new owners spruced up Sam Lynn before this season with fresh paint, an expanded home clubhouse and a renovated playing field. But Voiland and Hathaway vowed that it would not remain the team’s long-term home in its current condition.
"Things have changed from when I was a kid going to games with my dad," Blaze owner Gene Voiland said at a press conference today announcing the deal, according to the Bakersfield California. "It's family-focused entertainment."
It was just four years ago that Bakersfield appeared on the verge of losing its team. In late 2008, Cal League owners were considering a proposal from Minor League Baseball president Pat O’Conner to send the Blaze and High Desert Mavericks to the Carolina League. Several major league teams in the East and Midwest had requested to expand the Carolina League from eight to 10 teams in order to keep their high Class A affiliates closer to home, and moving Bakersfield and High Desert would also remove the Cal League’s two worst-performing franchises. Ultimately, the deal was doomed by money—how much the Carolina League would require for an entry fee and how much Cal League owenrs wanted to be compensated—as well as a lack of two viable markets in the Carolina League.
Blaney took over the reigns of the Cal League from longtime president Joe Gagliardi two seasons later and said the league would no longer consider shifting two teams to the Carolina League. Solving the Bakersfield and High Desert issues would become his top priority. And it appears that his mission has been completed, as High Desert signed a lease extension at Mavericks Stadium with plans for a significant ballpark renovation.
“This is something that we’ve been working on the past three years,” Blaney said. “This has been a top priority for the league. It’s a great day for the California League and a great day for Bakersfield and a great day for Minor League Baseball and Major League Baseball.”
The Lexington Legends will have a new affiliate for the first time in franchise history when the South Atlantic League franchise opens next season. And beginning tonight, the Legends will have a new logo as well.
The Legends will unveil their new logo this evening as part of a local fundraiser in downtown Lexington. The team mascot, Big L, will don a new team new jersey when it joins other participants rappelling down the 410-foot-tall Lexington Financial Center. The Legends will have a booth set up outside the “Brave the Blue” event—a reference to the color of the building and a fundraiser for the Boy Scouts—with new hats and branded merchandise on display. The team will also be passing out free T-shirts bearing their new logo.
The logo change comes after the Legends parted ways with the Astros after 12 seasons during the offseason affiliation shuffle, which saw seven low Class A franchises (including six in the Midwest League) swap major league affiliates. The Legends will now team up with the Royals, which had spent the previous two seasons with Kane County (Midwest) but were displaced when the Cougars decided to sign on with the home-state Cubs.
"This truly is an offseason of change around the ballpark with our new affiliation," Legends general manager Seth Poteat told the Lexington Herald-Leader. "We're thrilled with the new color scheme and logos and feel all of our fans are going to love the new look of their Legends."
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.
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.
The New Orleans Zephyrs' long road trip is finally over. Unfortunately, so is their season.
Pacific Coast League president Branch Rickey III said the decision wasn't easy, but in the end he decided to cancel New Orleans' final four-game homestand against the Iowa Cubs, rather than force the Zephyrs to play a second straight home series on the road.
The Zephyrs were among those in New Orleans displaced by Hurricane Isaac, with a scheduled four-game homestand against Round Rock moved to the Express’ Dell Diamond. New Orleans lost all four games there, including last night’s series finale, which officially knocked the Zephyrs out of playoff contention. But even before the first pitch was thrown last night, the league decided it would be New Orleans' last game of the season.
Zephyr Field was unplayable and without power, and travel into New Orleans was uncertain at best. That meant the Zephyrs would have needed to move their series against Iowa to either the Cubs’ Principal Park in Des Moines, or to Round Rock, which had already completed its home schedule. Rickey decided the expense and logistics of a last-minute switch to each of the teams involved were too significant.
"Given the extensive impact of Hurricane Isaac on airline schedules, municipal infrastructure, and the safety and well-being of people across the region, we felt it was important at this time that the PCL allow all of those affected to more importantly focus on local recovery," Rickey said in a statement.
[...] Continue Reading »
The Yankees' player-development contract with Double-A Trenton was not set to expire for another two years, but that didn't stop New York from working out an eight-year extension with their Eastern League affiliate that will run through the 2022 season.
It's a deal may that very well be the first of its kind. Teams are allowed to extend player-development contracts with their current affiliate in two- or four-year increments. So in order to work out an eight-year deal, the Yankees and Thunder signed two successor contracts—with the second one postdated from Oct. 1, 2018 to Sept. 30, 2022.
"We are both honored and humbled to remain part of the Yankee family for the next ten years," Thunder president Joe Finley said in a press release. "We are proud to be an integral part of the premier player development system in all of major league baseball and look forward to remaining in that role for many years to come."
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman shouldn't have to worry about negotiating any PDCs for awhile. New York owns both its Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (with Mandalay Baseball) and high Class A Tampa affiliates. Their low Class A Charleston club is owned by Marv Goldklang, who owns a minority stake in the Yankees. New York previously owned its short-season Staten Island club before selling the team to a Connecticut-based partnership of financial investors who won't be parting ways with the hometown Yankees.
In other affiliation news, the Mets signed a four-year extension with Double-A Binghamton (Eastern) through the 2016 season. The two teams have been together since 1992. The Akron Aeros, who have been with the Indians since debuting in 1989, remain the only unsigned Eastern League team.
No Double-A team has changed affiliation since 2009, and that streak appears likely to continue this year. Three Southern League teams have contracts set to expire after this season: Huntsville (Brewers), Jackson (Mariners) and Jacksonville (Marlins). Arkansas (Angels) is the only franchise with an expiring contract in the Texas League, which has not had a team change affiliations since 2007.
See here for an update on every team's affiliation status.
Chicago fans weren’t the only ones to get worked up over this week’s news that the Cubs may have already agreed to move their low Class A affiliation from Peoria to Kane County in the Midwest League, and will sign a player-development contract with the Cougars when the affiliation shuffle begins in September.
The Chicago Sun-Times’ story also caught the attention of Minor League Baseball president Pat O’Conner. Normally a fan of promoting anything and everything related to the minor leagues, O’Conner would rather not have seen this story in print. If the Sun-Times’ report is accurate, it means Kane County and the Cubs could be guilty of tampering.
According to the Professional Baseball Agreement—the rules that guide the relationship between Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball—teams can discuss new affiliations only during a two-week open period that begins on Sept. 16. Any contact before then is prohibited, as is any public comment on other teams’ affiliates.
Asked when Minor League Baseball might open an investigation into possible tampering, O’Conner responded: “As soon as that article hit my desk . . . As soon as we were aware of it, we started to look into it.”
The PBA outlines in detail how and when major and minor league teams can pursue new player-development contracts. They’re free to renew existing deals at any time. Once the minor league regular season concludes, teams have until Sept. 11 to inform either MLB or MiLB that they intend to seek a new affiliation. From Sept.12-15, the central offices provide their clubs a list of teams seeking new affiliations. Beginning on Sept. 16, teams have 15 days to negotiate a new deal.
“There is a process that is designed to make it as competitively balanced and as fair as possible,” O’Conner said. “If you do have these guys jumping the gun and essentially cheating, then the system’s competitive balance and credibility are out the window.”
The secretive nature of the affiliation shuffle leads to plenty of speculation throughout the season about who is going where, and it’s not unusual for teams to have arrangements in place before the affiliation shuffle kicks off. If Kane County and the Cubs do end up together, their biggest mistake appears to be letting the news slip in advance.
“We don’t take any of it lightly,” O’Conner said.
Tampering penalties include a fine of $500,000 for a major league team and up to $100,000 for a minor league team, according to the PBA. O’Conner said he has contacted Kane County officials and commissioner Bud Selig’s office regarding the Cubs.
The end of August often brings a rush of affiliation extensions, and a pair of long-term partners extended their deals earlier this week.
The Padres and high Class A Lake Elsinore (California) extended their player-development contract two years through the 2014 season. The Phillies and low Class A Lakewood (South Atlantic) also agreed to a two-year extension. Both relationships date back to 2001.
See here for a complete listing of every team’s affiliation status.
Finishing near the bottom of the Midwest League standings may not be the worst thing to happen to the Peoria Chiefs this season. Seeing their eight-year affiliation with the Chicago Cubs come to an end would certainly top that. And according to the Chicago Sun-Times, that’s exactly what the Cubs plan on doing when their player-development contract with the Chiefs expires after this season.
The Cubs plan on bringing their low Class A affiliate closer to home, from Peoria to Kane County (whose affiliation with the Royals expires in September) after this season, the Sun-Times reported on Tuesday. Peoria and Chicago have been partners since 2005. They were previously together for 10 seasons from 1985-94.
Of course, minor league franchises are not supposed to negotiate with another team’s big league affiliate, as Minor League Baseball bylaws prohibit franchises from “tampering” with another club’s partner. Minor league teams can only begin negotiating with unattached affiliates when a 15-day open period begins on Sept. 16.
“It definitely caught us off guard,” Chiefs president Rocky Vonachen said of the Cubs’ reported plans, according to the Peoria Journal Star. “It’s the first we’ve heard anything like that.”
The Cubs leaving town would be the latest blow to Peoria during a challenging five-year stretch. A recession that hurt minor league baseball’s overall attendance figures in recent years hit Peoria particularly hard. Average attendance at Peoria’s O’Brien Field fell 26 percent, from 4,241 in 2008 to 3,132 in 2011. With seven home dates remaining this season, the Chiefs’ are averaging 2,776 fans and are on pace for an 11 percent dip from last season.
The slide has hurt the team’s bottom line, as the Chiefs suffered financial losses in four straight seasons from 2008-11, according to a report last December in the Peoria Journal Star.
The Cubs’ shift would also be a blow to the Royals, who relocated to Kane County two years ago after ending their 10-year run in quaint-but-comfortable Burlington. Kane County is regularly the runner-up in Midwest League attendance to the Dayton Dragons (who have sold out every game since debuting in 2000) but is on pace to finish third in average attendance behind the Fort Wayne TinCaps this season. The Cougars are averaging 5,446 fans this season, down 11 percent from 6,123 in 2011. The TinCpas are set to finish their fourth season at Parkview Field with a 5,707 average, up 1.6 percent from 5,612 last season.
A total of 11 teams in the 16-team Midwest League have player development contracts expiring after this season, though several are likely to renew longstanding relationships before the affiliation shuffle kicks off in September.
And then there was one.
The Rochester Red Wings’ two-year extension of its player-development contract with the Minnesota Twins late last week leaves the Buffalo Bisons as the only International League franchise without an affiliate lined up for next season.
Buffalo’s status is unlikely to change before Sept. 16, when teams are allowed to begin negotiating with unattached affiliates and the two-week bi-annual affiliation shuffle officially kicks off. That’s because the Bisons, who have been with the Mets the past four years, are expected to ink a deal with the Blue Jays, who have spent the past four years in Las Vegas (Pacific Coast) and appear eager to move their top affiliate closer to home and into a better ballpark.
A Toronto partnership with Buffalo would force the Mets on the move for the third time in six years and leave them with limited options on a home for the next two seasons. Eight of the 16 PCL franchises remain unsigned, though a change is unlikely for the bulk of that list. A potential landing spot for the Mets is Las Vegas, which likely will be the last team standing in the affiliation shuffle because its ballpark, Cashman Field, is among the most out-of-date in Triple-A.
Rochester considered replacing the Twins after posting consecutive 90-loss seasons. But a second-half surge this season—the Red Wings are in the wild-card race and have posted the International League’s best mark since July 1—secured Minnesota another two years in upstate New York. Rochester is sticking with the Twins not because of a lack of quality alternatives but rather the Twins’ commitment to rebuilding its farm system, Red Wings president Naomi Silver said.
“You don’t know exactly who is going to become available (in the affiliation shuffle),” Silver said, “and there was no option that appeared to be better than the one we have . . . We definitely feel that the Twins are an organization that believes, like we do, that the development of minor league players is a critical part of their business model, and it served us very well. We had a couple of rough seasons with them, but in 10 seasons overall they have been a great partner for us. They believe in teaching and training their players and training their players to do it their way. It is a very instructional organization, so we are very pleased to be with them. These are people whose baseball savvy we respect very much.”
In other affiliation news, the Blue Jays extended its PDC with low Class A Lansing (Midwest) for another two years through the 2014 season. The two sides have been together since 2005 and the Blue Jays sent the Lugnuts three of their best young pitchers this season in Justin Nicolino (8-4, 2.63), Aaron Sanchez (8-3, 2.27) and Noah Syndergaard (7-4, 2.79). Lansing rolled to the Midwest League’s first-half title and, despite a second-half dip, still sport the circuit’s best overall record at 76-47.
Scranton/Wilkes-Barre is preparing to drop one of the most iconic names in baseball for a new one that promises to be a bit, well, less traditional.
So long, Yankees.
The Triple-A International League franchise, which is set to debut a new ballpark next season after spending all of 2012 on the road, announced late last week that a new team identity will be coming to town as well. They’ll remain Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, as the team hopes to draw fans from both cities. They sought fan input on potential new nicknames and received over 2,700 submissions before narrowing that list down to six. Though they are again asking the public to vote for its favorite, the team plans to make the final decision on their future moniker.
“Everyone has got their opinion and we truly appreciate everyone’s opinion,” said new Scranton/Wilkes-Barre general manager Rob Crain, who has been on the job for about a month after spending six years with Triple-A Omaha. “We’ll be able to tie this team name into the local community better than we ever in team history.”
And just how does Scranton/Wilkes-Barre plan to connect local tradition to baseball? Will they follow the Albuquerque Isotopes’ model and incorporate some pop-culture references—perhaps the Dunder Mifflins?
Not exactly, but there does appear to be a couple of winners among the six candidates listed below. (Descriptions of each name were written by the team, not this author. Fans can vote for their favorite at the team’s website.)
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