Eastern League Agrees To Move Team To Ottawa

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.

The team would play at Ottawa Stadium, which housed the Triple-A Ottawa Lynx from 1993 to 2007, and the deal is contingent upon a major renovation of the 19-year-old ballpark. The city had previously pledged to help fund a $7.7 million, but Billings said that figure has now been increased to over $10 million to be split in some fashion between the city and team. The lease is scheduled to begin on Jan. 1 and will be for 15 years with a five-year option, Billings said.

The Ottawa City Council is scheduled to review and vote on the new lease and renovation plan in early October. The sale of the team and its relocation still needs to be approved by Minor League Baseball and Major League Baseball, which Billings hopes to have completed at the Winter Meetings in early December.

The project has been in the works since late last year, though its details have been fuzzy. Billings has claimed all along to be working with a specific team. However, McEacharn previously contended that no team had petitioned the Eastern League to explore the territory, as required by Minor League Baseball bylaws, and rather it was the league in exploratory discussions with Ottawa.

Those discussions seem to have paid off, as McEarcharn described the new agreement as a “win-win-win” situation, according to the Ottawa Sun. “We think it will be a great win for the city of Ottawa, it’ll be a great win for the citizens of Ottawa, it’ll be a win for the Eastern League to move there, and we think the owner of the team will be put in a very positive environment to be successful on all fronts.”
So who is this mystery team? That's a question that has caused quite a stir this season. The Ottawa Sun previously reported that the Binghamton Mets would relocate to Ottawa, a claim that B-Mets owner Michael Urda passionately denied. Binghamton recently renewed its player development contract with the Mets for four more years and also extended its lease at NYSEG Stadium through the 2016 season.

“The Binghamton Mets have not been sold, and we have not been contacted by anyone interested in our club,” Urda told The Binghamton (N.Y.) Press & Bulletin in February. “There’s 12 teams in the Eastern League and we have to address it every single week . . . Enough’s enough.”

The Erie SeaWolves have long been rumored to be interested in leaving town, but a team source previously said they were not involved with Ottawa. The Blue Jays have expressed interest in having an affiliate in Ottawa, which led to speculation that New Hampshire would be on the move, but the Blue Jays can change affiliations without the Fisher Cats relocating, and the Fisher Cats are one of the best draws in the Eastern League. Toronto’s player development contract with New Hampshire expires after the 2014 season.