See also: Affiliation Status of Every Minor League Team
Before the affiliation shuffle has officially gotten under way, a major alteration could be taking place in the Appalachian League.
The Blue Jays have notified the league that they won’t be back in Pulaski next year, and they apparently intend to drop to five affiliates next season, rather than the conventional six.
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That leaves the Appy League to look for another major league organization to come in and take the Blue Jays’ place.
“They have shown their intent to leave Pulaski, and we are exploring options to replace them,” league president Lee Landers said. “One is good and two are bad.”
The good one is simply finding another major league team to take the Blue Jays’ place. But that’s more complicated than it seems. All the franchises in the Appy League are owned by major league teams, and the Professional Baseball Agreement allows Major League Baseball to expand or contract the league at its discretion. In that way, the Appy League is like the complex-based Arizona and Gulf Coast leagues.
All other minor leagues establish their affiliations through player-development contracts, the documents that teams are in the process of signing now. MLB guarantees affiliations for those 160 minor league teams, and its rules prohibit a team from leaving one of those leagues in order to add a team in the Appy League.
The Blue Jays aren’t adding an affiliate anywhere, so there won’t be a domino effect that will push a team into the Appy League. So the only way for the league to replace the Blue Jays would be for an organization to add an affiliate or replace a complex-based team with one in the Appy League.
“Our focus right now is to find another club to go into Pulaski,” Landers said. “We have clubs that want to come into the league, but they’re not in a position to add an affiliate.”
If the league can’t replace the Blue Jays, the less palatable options come into play: operating a co-op club in Pulaski, or playing with just nine teams. The co-op situation, in which a number of major league clubs would supply players for Pulaski, is more attractive to Landers than going back to nine teams.
“The worst-case scenario is playing with nine clubs,” he said. “To me, that’s unacceptable.”
Landers considers that idea unacceptable because it would mean an empty stadium in Pulaski, where the city has put more than $750,000 into ballpark improvements over the last decade.
“I think there is a credibility issue here,” he said. “We have made improvements throughout our league, so these cities deserve to have teams.”
Interestingly, Pulaski returned to the Appy League a decade ago to help out MLB, which faced a shortage of affiliates after the expansion involving the Devil Rays and Diamondbacks. The Rangers were squeezed out in the affiliation shuffle following the 1996 season, so the league returned to Pulaski to give the Rangers another affiliate. The move also benefited the league because it operated with nine teams in 1996, after the franchise in Huntington, W.Va., folded. The Blue Jays replaced the Rangers in 2003.
Since Pulaski has returned to the league, the team has responded to every request for stadium improvements and had more planned, including a renovation of the visitors clubhouse.
“They have done a first-class job with everything,” Landers said. “They have bent over backwards, and not only have done everything asked of them but have added to it.”
Landers was on a conference call with farm directors who have teams in the league and officials from MLB on Thursday to talk about the Blue Jays leaving and what can be done about it.
“Pulaski deserves to have a team, so I hope we can find a solution,” one farm director said.
Officials from Pulaski, the Blue Jays and MLB did not immediately return phone calls.
The Appy League has already gone through one change this offseason, with the Royals replacing the Indians in Burlington. The Indians are dropping from seven affiliates to six, while the Royals want to move up to seven.