Little Movement Expected In Triple-A Affiliation Shuffle

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Triple-A fans looking a new major league affiliate to come to town next season may not want to throw out their old gear just yet.

Chances are it's not happening.

Even though the affiliation shuffle doesn't kick into gear until after the season, a lot of the jockeying will take place over the next few months. Minor league franchises cannot negotiate new affiliations until mid-September, but they can renew their current deals at any time. And that is likely what will happen in Triple-A this year.

Just two Triple-A teams changed affiliates after the 2010 season, when Nolan Ryan-owned Round Rock (Pacific Coast) brought in Ryan's newly purchased Texas Rangers, sending the Astros to PCL neighbor Oklahoma City.

Three of the five longest-tenured affiliations in the minor leagues can be found in Triple-A: Omaha, a Royals affiliate since each debuted in 1969; Pawtucket, a Red Sox team since 1973; and Iowa, with the Cubs since 1981. Nine other Triple-A teams have affiliations that date back until 2000 or earlier. So even though nearly half of Triple-A teams have player-development contracts expiring after this season, expect many of those to be renewed before the season ends.

"I think we're locked into a situation where things look to be pretty stable," International League president Randy Mobley said.

That's not to suggest no movement is coming. The Blue Jays have made clear their interest in bringing their affiliates closer to Toronto or supporting baseball in Canada, adding a Northwest League affiliation in Vancouver two years ago and publicly supporting the idea of an Eastern League franchise in Ottawa. So Toronto will likely try and leave Las Vegas (Pacific Coast) after four years, possibly for Buffalo (International)—whose affiliation with the Mets expires this season.

Rochester (International) could be in the market for a new affiliate after consecutive 90-plus loss seasons with the Twins. Minnesota wants to extend its affiliation in Rochester, which began in 2003, and this year brought in a manager with local ties (Gene Glynn) and a more competitive team.

"There always is a possibility of something happening there, but the relationship between the business sides of Rochester and the Twins is so good," Mobley said. "I just happened to be there last week and (Twins executive) Bill Smith was there. Even with the challenges on the field, those two organizations work as well any we've got going. They are certainly nowhere near the Hatfields and McCoys."

The IL has had just two landscape-altering shuffles over the past 10 years. The first came following the 2002 season, when Rochester ended its 42-year affiliation with the Orioles. Four years later, Norfolk ended its 38-year partnership with the Mets to bring in Baltimore.

Also in 2006, the Phillies left Scranton/Wilkes-Barre after 18 years, going to Ottawa for a year before that franchise moved to Allentown, Pa., and became the Lehigh Valley IronPigs. Lehigh Valley has since topped the minors in attendance the past two seasons.

Though it has taken an unconventional route, Scranton hopes to finally be getting a new ballpark. Lackawanna County officials have reached an agreement in principle to sell the team to SWB Yankees LLC, an  entity made up of Mandalay Baseball and the New York Yankees that currently operates the team. That sale should finally kick-start the $40 million renovation of PNC Park, which is scheduled to open in 2013 after the Yankees play their entire 2012 slate on the road.

The Charlotte Knights have long been in the market for a new downtown ballpark to replace their home in suburban Fort Mill, S.C. That appears closer than ever now that the team has a financing plan in place and a naming-rights sponsor for the $74 million project. The proposal is dependent upon an $8.5 million contribution from the city

The team has proposed to pay $7.5 million up front and contribute $30 million from naming rights, sponsorships and suite sales. The remainder would come from public money. Mecklenberg County, N.C., has agreed to lease the team eight acres of land in near the Carolina Panthers stadium valued at $20 million for $1 a year, and would also contribute $8 million over 20 years. 

International League (AAA)
Buffalo Bisons Mets 2012*
Could be landing spot for Blue Jays, who are likely leaving Las Vegas after this season to get closer to Toronto.
Charlotte Knights White Sox 2014*
As close as ever to landing new ballpark, as proposed $74 million downtown facility has a corporate sponsor and financing plan.
Columbus Clippers Indians 2014*
Downtown Huntington Park has increased average attendance 11 percent since opening in 2009. Served as a Yankees affiliate from 1979-2007, and the Nationals from 2007-09 before taking on a local affiliation with the Indians.
Durham Bulls Rays 2014*
Bulls have had two affiliates since 1980 (Rays/Braves), and aren't likely to add a third anytime soon. Durham Bulls Athletic Park, which helped kick off the building boom in 1995, has held relatively steady in attendance over the past four years.
Gwinnett Braves Braves N/A*
Franchise still finding footing in suburban Atlanta, as team ranks near bottom of IL attendance despite playing in 3-year-old ballpark
Indianapolis Indians Pirates 2012
Unlikely to change. Bucs have been in town since 2005. 
Lehigh Valley IronPigs Phillies 2012
Unlikely to change. IronPigs' fans love Phillies and Phillies love well-operated Lehigh Valley franchise that has topped the minors in attendance the past two seasons.
Louisville Bats Reds 2014
Freitas Award winner has been Reds affiliate since 2000. Atten-dance has dipped 5.4 percent since Bats topped the IL in 2007 with a 9,210 average.
Norfolk Tides Orioles 2014
Contrary to rumors, Ken Young doesn't appear to be selling his O's affiliates in Norfolk, Bowie and Frederick.
Pawtucket Red Sox Red Sox 2014
Too beloved by Peter Gammons and Red Sox fans to change. PawSox's 39-year affiliation with Red Sox is fourth-longest in the minors.
Rochester Red Wings Twins 2012
Franchise has kicked out losing affiliates before (see Orioles, 2002). Could repeat with team off to slow start after losing 90-plus games the past two seasons.
Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees Yankees 2014
New ballpark is (hopefully) on the way for the 2013 season, as are a new name and ownership.
Syracuse Chiefs Nationals 2014
Between Strasburg and Harper, the Chiefs are likely better off after losing out on hosting Mets four years ago.
Toledo Mud Hens Tigers 2016
Relationship with Tigers dates back to 1987—second-longest in IL. Fifth Third Field has a lot of local flavor, including concession items like fried bologna sandwiches—a fan favorite.
* Minor league franchise owned by major league affiliate
Pacific Coast League (AAA)
Albuquerque Isotopes Dodgers 2012
Affiliation has worked well since Dodgers returned to their roots from Las Vegas four years ago.
Colorado Springs Sky Sox Rockies 2014
Any concerns about relationship with Rockies were erased when Sky Sox extended PDC with Colorado in January.
Fresno Grizzlies Giants 2012
Giants affiliate since 1998, Fresno has been hit hard by recession: Attendance has dipped 6.2 percent since 2008.
Iowa Cubs Cubs 2012
Change unlikely. Teams have been together since 1981. Iowa rebounded after attendance dipped 10 percent in '08 amid flooding.
Las Vegas 51s Blue Jays 2012
Change likely. Blue Jays want to move closer to Toronto. 51s still seeking new ownership and a new ballpark.
Memphis Redbirds Cardinals 2012
Change unlikely. Memphis truly is Cardinals country and St. Louis would be challenged to find better facility.
Nashville Sounds Brewers 2012
Change unlikely. Potential for new ballpark makes Nashville an even more appealing market.
New Orleans Zephyrs Marlins 2012
Change possible. Marlins have only been in town since 2009. Franchise spent previous four years with Expos/Nationals.
Oklahoma City RedHawks Houston 2012
Change possible. Astros finishing up second season in town since getting booted out of Round Rock.
Omaha Storm Chasers Royals 2014
Partnership since 1969 is longest in Triple-A. Franchise in second year at new ballpark since leaving historic Rosenblatt.
Reno Aces Diamondbacks 2012
No reason D-backs would want to leave one of the best new venues in minors.
Round Rock Express Rangers 2014
No change coming so long as Nolan Ryan is in charge of Rangers
Sacramento River Cats Athletics 2014
Attendance has dipped 13 percent since '08 (and 19 percent since 2005), but 8,455 average last year was still among best in minors.
Salt Lake Bees Angels 2014
Bees haven't won PCL title in 32 years, including the past 11 with Angels.
Tacoma Rainiers Mariners 2014
Just 35 miles from Safeco Field, renovated Cheney Stadium (which first opened in 1960) is like new.
Tucson Padres Padres 2012
Future of franchise in question, as Tucson is not likely its final landing spot after being displaced two years ago from Portland, Ore. Team is owned by Jeff Moorad, whose future with the Padres may be in question since stepping down as CEO in March.