As The Eastern League Turns

According to the Ottawa Citizen, the Binghamton Mets are the Eastern League franchise that could be moving to Ottawa. But according to the president of the B-Mets, the team is not for sale and he’s getting tired of answering questions about a possible move.

The newspaper cites unnamed minor league sources naming the B-Mets as the team that will be bought by a Boston group called Beacon Sports Capital Partners and moved to Ottawa.

The Binghamton (N.Y.) Press & Bulletin, however, refuted that report today in an interview with B-Mets president Michael Urda, who told the paper, “The Binghamton Mets have not been sold, and we have not been contacted by anyone interested in our club . . . There’s 12 teams in the Eastern League and we have to address it every single week . . . Enough’s enough.”

As part of the scenario reported by the Citizen, Binghamton would replace the Mets with the Batavia, N.Y., franchise in the New York-Penn League. Batavia has been on the market since the Rochester Red Wings (International) took over the team’s operations four years ago.

Rochester president Naomi Silver discredited that report, saying that Binghamton buying the Muckdogs “is just a rumor.”

“I have not even spoken to anybody in Binghamton,” Silver said.

Eastern League president Joe McEacharn said yesterday that the league’s interest in the Ottawa market is only in the exploratory stage and that any discussion of a team moving there is premature.

Soon after Baseball America interviewed McEacharn, however, the city of Ottawa issued a press release confirming that it had reached an agreement in principle with a group that was buying an Eastern League team. A source confirmed to Baseball America that the Erie Sea Wolves, another EL team often rumored to be on the move, were not in negotiations with Ottawa.

The Ottawa Citizen report also said the Blue Jays would end their affiliation with the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, where they have played since 2004, and sign on with Ottawa. Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos denied this claim in a National Post story, telling the paper the team is “absolutely” interested in extending its player-development contract with New Hampshire.

“We’re thrilled with New Hampshire,” Anthopoulos told The National Post. “They have the best ballpark in the Eastern League, unbelievable ownership and unbelievable management. It can’t get any better for us than New Hampshire.”

It’s important to remember that teams cannot negotiate new affiliations until after the 2012 season, though they can extend their current deals. They are not even allowed to discuss possible changes for fear of tampering charges. So even if Toronto is interested in moving to Ottawa, the team would not be allowed to discuss or explore the option with the city or Beacon Sports.

The National Post story also addressed speculation that the Blue Jays would like to move their Triple-A affiliation from Las Vegas to New Hampshire, while putting a Double-A affiliate in Ottawa. While such a move sounds interesting, it is not practical because the Blue Jays cannot realign minor league baseball. Like most teams, Toronto does not own its affiliates in Las Vegas and New Hampshire, but rather signs a player-development contract with the privately owned minor league teams. What’s more, Las Vegas is in the Pacific Coast League.

The Blue Jays could leave Las Vegas after this season when their affiliation expires and seek an affiliation with an International League team closer to home, and it seems reasonable to think they will pursue that option. At most six of the 14 International League teams will be available, though, as the others already have affiliation agreements through at least 2014. And of the six teams considered available–Buffalo (currently affiliated with the Mets), Indianapolis (Pirates), Lehigh Valley (Phillies), Pawtucket (Red Sox), Rochester (Twins) and Syracuse (Nationals)–at least a couple would be virtual locks to continue with their present agreements.

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