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."