Mike McCann / Minor Leagues
MINOR LEAGUE BASEBALL AFFILIATION CHANGES
By Mike McCann
For me, September of even numbered years is one of the most interesting times in minor league baseball. That is the time where the player development contracts expire between the minor league teams and the major league teams. Since I know I've talked about how that works before, I won't get into it. But if you would like to know, I put together a quick primer on my site at this page: http://www.geocities.com/big_bunko/pdc.html . The page also talks about when the player development contracts expire in the future.
The AAA level didn't have too many surprises this year. It was announced before the 2004 season that the Edmonton Trappers would be moving to Round Rock, TX and likely become an Astros affiliate. There were three other teams (Indianapolis, Nashville and New Orleans) that were available for major league partners (Milwaukee, Montreal and Pittsburgh). The Pirates wanted to get back into the International League, so they signed with Indianapolis. The Brewers moved to Nashville where the Pirates had been. And New Orleans now has the Washington franchise.
The AA level was fairly boring this time around. The El Paso Diablos franchise was purchased by the St. Louis Cardinals and moved to Springfield, MO. The team became a Cardinals affiliate, of course. Since Tennessee no longer had the Cardinals and no other franchises were available, the Diamondbacks ended up going to Tennessee. I would expect Arizona to try to move back to the Texas League in 2006 if at all possible.
For me, the closest minor league team is the Wilmington Blue Rocks, and I was definitely saddened that they moved from the Royals to the Red Sox. I'm not a big Royals fan, but the Blue Rocks have had the best winning percentage of any minor league team over the past 12 years (since they moved to Wilmington). The Royals had many great prospects come through from Mike Sweeney and Johnny Damon to Angel Berroa and Zack Greinke. They made the playoffs in 10 of 12 seasons. I will definitely miss seeing the Royals prospects. The Royals moved on to High Desert in the California League. I was surprised that they went from a pitcher's league to High Desert where the Brewers didn't like sending their pitching prospects since their ERAs got so high playing there.
The Brewers moved to Brevard County of the Florida State League. I was kind of surprised at that since they have spring training in Arizona, but the Brewers said they wanted to have all of their affiliates in the same general vicinity (Nashville AAA, Huntsville AA). The Expos who were in Brevard County moved to Potomac. This was just before it was announced that the Expos were moving to Washington, but the Cannons definitely did the right thing by signing with them. With the major league affiliate so close, that should help to increase interest in the team. The Reds moved to Sarasota where the Red Sox were. I had heard in 2000 that the Reds wanted to move to Sarasota to be collocated with their spring training location, and now they were finally able to work something out.
The Stockton Ports are getting a new stadium in 2005, so why not start with a new major league affiliate? Oakland was no longer happy with Modesto, so they decided to move to the nice new stadium in Stockton. It didn't really matter to them that they had been in Modesto since 1975 either. With the Athletics gone, the Rockies decided to move in. Visalia is one of my least favorite stadiums (although I know they've made some improvements since I was there in 2002) so I can't say I blame the Rockies for leaving. Tampa Bay was probably the most disappointed team in all of this because they really wanted to go back to the Florida State League (the major league club is in Florida, so it makes the most sense). But there weren't any Florida State League teams open for them, so they ended up in Visalia. The Bakersfield Blaze signed on with Texas. The stadium in Bakersfield is one of the oldest and the team may move sometime soon.
Low A was just as exciting as High A. The Quad Cities got a nice new stadium in 2004, but even though the Twins stuck with them through the tough times, the Swing decided to move on. Quad Cities signed with the Cardinals giving them a closer affiliate. The Cardinals became available because the Cubs wanted to have a team in Illinois once again, so they signed on with Peoria. Lansing moved on to the Blue Jays from the Cubs. Charleston, WV is also getting a new stadium in 2005 along with a new affiliation. The Brewers moved to Charleston, WV from Beloit where they had been since they been since 1982 when they were a Midwest League expansion team. Minnesota wanted to keep their affiliate somewhat close, so they moved to Beloit.
The Red Sox ended up moving another affiliation by moving from Augusta to Capital City. Since Columbia, SC cannot get a new stadium deal, they are looking to move the team. Greenville, SC has been mentioned as a possibility since the Braves are moving to Mississippi in 2005. Although other teams are looking to move to Greenville as well, like the West Tennessee Diamond Jaxx and the Mets new affiliate, the Hagerstown Suns. The Giants moved from Hagerstown to Augusta.
The Devil Rays again didn't do so well ending up in one of the less desirable locations of Battle Creek, another team often rumored to be moving. The cycle was completed by swapping places with the Yankees who ended up in Charleston, SC.
Surprisingly, no teams in any of the other leagues ended up changing affiliations. I thought that at least one team in the NY-Penn, Northwest or Pioneer Leagues would end up switching. But many teams extended their contracts early leaving few options for those who didn't.
A very exciting time if you ask me. Now we'll get to see in the next few months if any teams announce that they will be playing in a different location next season. I would expect a few teams to move, so stay tuned.
I am always looking for topics to write about, so please send me an e-mail and let me know what would be interesting reading for you. Feel free to ask any questions or give an idea for a column.