Mike McCann / Minor Leagues
HOW COULD THE EXPOS MOVE AFFECT THE MINOR LEAGUES?
By Mike McCann
Since the Montreal Expos will be moving to Washington, DC, this may have some impact on the minor leagues as far as affiliation location. Most teams try to have their affiliates close by if they can, so it will be interesting to see if Washington tries to get more of its minor league affiliates in their general vicinity. You won't see any more affiliation changes until the 2007 season, but I would think that they may make some effort to have its affiliates closer than they currently are.
There have been rumors for the past few years about the Ottawa Lynx moving to Harrisburg. Previously, Ottawa had been an Expos affiliate and it would make sense that if the major league club was moving to Washington that its AAA affiliate should move close by. But in 2003, Baltimore took over the Ottawa club, and the rumors strengthened since Baltimore would be even closer. It won't happen for 2005, but I wouldn't be surprised if this rumor eventually panned out. So really the obvious choice for a AAA affiliate has to be Richmond. The Braves own the team and have been in Richmond since 1966, when the Atlanta Crackers moved there because the major league Braves were moving in from Milwaukee. The Diamond in Richmond has seen better days and currently has many flooding problems. There is talk about building a new stadium in Richmond, so maybe they could do it as a Washington affiliate. There were rumors a few years ago about the Braves moving the Richmond team to a new stadium in Greenville, SC, and I think that the Braves would be interested in moving their affiliate closer. Right now, it looks more likely that the West Tennessee Diamond Jaxx or Capital City Bombers will end up in Greenville. But there are other places where the Braves AAA affiliate could go. Jacksonville quickly comes to mind.
The Harrisburg Senators will be Washington's AA team, and their team name is extremely coincidental. Assuming that Harrisburg doesn't obtain a AAA team, I can see Washington staying there. The only AA team that is closer is Bowie, so I guess there could be some chance that Baltimore and Washington would want to swap, but I highly doubt it though.
At the High A level, the Potomac Cannons have already become the Washington affiliate. This agreement was made just before the Expos move was announced, but you have to know that this was done with the move in mind. Originally, I was thinking that the Potomac team would be in trouble, but aligning themselves with the Washington team will be a great benefit. They just need to build a new stadium though. This worked out well for other teams too, since Washington left the Florida State League where many teams were trying to get into.
With the Low A level, the South Atlantic League has a close affiliate in Hagerstown. I'm not sure that Washington would want to go there since the stadium is not in very good shape. Their current affiliate resides in Savannah, another town which is clamoring for a new stadium. I think that Washington should make an effort to move their affiliate to North Carolina. It would help them to drum up some interest in an area a little further south. The South Atlantic League has a number of teams in that area, so they should be able to move their affiliate a little closer than Savannah.
Recently, the Vermont Expos announced that they were keeping the Expos name, at least for the 2005 season. It looks like they will come up with a new nickname for the 2006 season though. There aren't many close options in the NY-Penn League right now. There will be a team moving to State College, PA in 2006 (probably Jamestown), so maybe Washington could become involved with them.
It isn't very important for teams to have close affiliates, but it definitely helps both the major and minor league clubs. There are many teams that don't have a lot of options for nearby teams (like those on the west coast), but many others do their best to keep as many minor league affiliates as they can within a reasonable drive. Washington does have that opportunity, and I think that they will start to put that plan in place in 2007, if possible.
If Washington moves their affiliates around to get them closer, there will be other minor league teams looking for new major league partners. But since every two years teams are looking to find a better option than the one they had before, things might not be so different for the next go around in September 2006.
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