Bringing Baseball Back To Ottawa Could Start Shuffle

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We have alluded to the possibility of baseball returning to Ottawa in the context of a baseball renaissance in Canada, and those plans took a step forward this fall when the city of Ottawa voted to pursue a new tenant for its ballpark.

Ottawa Stadium was home to the International League's Ottawa Lynx from 1993-2007. In the face of declining attendance, the team was sold and moved for the 2008 season, becoming the Lehigh Valley IronPigs. The stadium remains viable for minor league use, though it has been used in the last few years only by independent league or semi-pro teams.

A group came forward this summer, however, indicating interest in bringing Organized Baseball back to Ottawa. According to the Ottawa Citizen, Beacon Sports Capital Partners, an American financing firm, represents an ownership group that wants to move an existing Double-A franchise to the city.

The Ottawa city council is interested in putting a team back in the ballpark, and it put a stadium lease out for bids in November. Presumably the Beacon Sports group will submit a bid, but the city wants to find out if anyone else might be interested. The move presumably wouldn't take place until after the 2012 season, and the assumption is that whichever franchise moves to Ottawa, it would take over the Blue Jays' Double-A affiliation.

Room For Speculation

At least publicly, none of the obvious candidates in the Eastern League say they are interested in moving from their existing markets. (We won't go completely crazy and suggest that the Southern or Texas leagues are possibilities here.)

The Binghamton Mets come to mind first, because they are usually at the bottom of EL attendance and Binghamton isn't exactly a growing market. But their ownership correctly points out that franchise has been doing just fine at the current level of attendance (around 200,000 a season) for most of its existence since joining the EL in 1992. As small-market franchises like Kinston (Carolina) have proved over the years, raw attendance numbers aren't the only factors in determining the health of a franchise.

That puts the Erie SeaWolves in the crosshairs. Like Binghamton, Erie is an attendance laggard, but the SeaWolves are an even more attractive candidate because their lease is up after the 2012 season. The franchise has been a popular target for markets on the lookout for a team because of the market and because it is owned by Mandalay Baseball, which owns multiple teams and has no community ties to Erie. The city fended off a bid from Holyoke, Mass., to attract the team in 2005 by making significant improvements to Jerry Uht Park, and rumors that Erie would be the franchise that moved to Richmond last year proved to be unfounded. It was the Connecticut Defenders that moved, becoming the Richmond Flying Squirrels.

It's unlikely the Flying Squirrels would take off again so quickly, but anyone who has followed minor league baseball knows how long people have been working to get a new ballpark in Richmond. None of those plans have gotten off the ground, though the city still says it plans to build a new stadium.

The Jays' current Double-A affiliate, New Hampshire, is a healthy franchise and an unlikely candidate for a move, even though it would presumably lose its Jays affiliation when another franchise goes to Ottawa.

And here's where we can plunge into pure speculation and let our imaginations run wild.

The Jays have their Triple-A affiliate in Las Vegas right now, a situation that appeals to no one. It is strictly a marriage of necessity, as the 51s and Blue Jays were the last teams standing in the most recent affiliation shuffle. In its reporting on the return of baseball, the Ottawa Citizen also reported on discussions about the possibility of New Hampshire moving up to Triple-A. What if the Jays stayed in New Hampshire—with the Fisher Cats becoming a member of the International League—while adding Ottawa as their Double-A affiliate?

That would not require the displacement of a current EL city. For that to happen, however, you would need to move a Triple-A franchise. There are no obvious candidates in the International League, but if you turn to the Pacific Coast League there's an extremely obvious candidate: The Tucson Padres, who were supposed to be hanging out in Arizona until their new ballpark was ready in suburban San Diego. Financing for that project has fallen apart, though, so presumably Jeff Moorad—who owns the Padres and bought the Triple-A team to be a Padres affiliate in the major league team's backyard—would be a motivated seller.

Could you move a PCL franchise to the IL? If so, you would need another franchise to move with it to keep the numbers even. The candidates there would seem to be members of the old American Association, such as Nashville or Memphis.

That's about four huge leaps of faith, so it's probably at least one leap too far, but with the major leagues looking at realignment as part of the new labor agreement, maybe it's time for the minors to do the same.