As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, realigning Minor League Baseball using normal realignment criteria such as geography, history, or just plain common sense is exceeding difficult due to the fact that MiLB is organized into several leagues. These leagues have plenty of history themselves; with many dating back to the turn of the century era that brought us the American League and the National League.
For this realignment scenario, I decided to go with the grain and actually honor the leagues and fill them all with teams that are appropriate for them. Here are a few of the ground rules and criteria I used to make the selections:
-PDCs. As with most all of my MiLB scenarios, I ignore Player Development Contracts (PDC). PDCs are agreements that pro clubs make with farm clubs that they wish to collaborate with. Contracts are signed with standard expiration being even numbered years. Several PDCs are expiring in 2012 and this time of the year teams are starting to get busy extending PDCs. The furthest extension I’ve found is the Detroit Tigers locked in with their homestate A-ball club, the West Michigan Whitecaps, until 2018. For this fantasy realignment, I imagine the reset button being hit. If I were MiLB commissioner and were imposing this realignment scenario, perhaps I would decree that no PDCs can be signed beyond, say, 2020. Imagine that blank slate as our mindset here.
-Attendance. I’ve spent plenty of time studying average attendance per game of all minor league teams over the last two seasons–2010 and 2011. Looking at these trends, it’s pretty obvious that some clubs have earned their right to a promotion. In the case of the Dayton Dragons, that means a frog leap from low-A to AAA. For others like the lackluster Orioles vehicle, the Bowie Baysox, it means a demotion.
-Teams per league. In MiLB, the amount of teams within a league is either 8, 10, 12, 14, or 16. Each of the 5 main levels (AAA, AA, Advanced-A, A, and for the most part: Short-Season A) has 30 clubs to affiliate with the 30 MLB clubs. I held true to these principles for this scenario, so that had a hand in the selections.
-Respecting some affiliations. At one point, I was tempted to move the Lowell (MA) Spinners from the NY-Penn league to the Eastern League, but decided against it. I’m no Red Sox fan, but I know that the success of the Portland (Maine) Sea Dogs and the Spinners is largely due to the fact that they are Red Sox affiliates in Red Sox country. If both teams were in the Eastern League, only one could be the Red Sox’s AA club. This came up a handful of times, and I often deferred.
-Proximity to MLB Parent Clubs. Geography is always at the forefront of one’s mind with any league realignment. The pro teams want to have their affiliates within reasonable driving distance so that scouts, GMs, coaches, etc. can conveniently and cheaply check out talent within their farm system. I guess I take an egalitarian approach to geographical realignment. Currently, it’s more like haves and have nots. The Orioles, for example have all of their primary affiliates within a very close proximity to Baltimore. There must be some Baltimorean pulling the strings in MiLB, because O’s scouts can conveniently watch a prospect like Manny Machado as he moves through short season-A (Aberdeen, Maryland), low-A (Delmarva, Maryland), high-A (Frederick, Maryland), AA (Bowie, Maryland), and AAA (nearby Norfolk, Virginia.) On the have-not side of the tracks, the Arizona Diamondbacks have no homestate affiliates and have to travel to Alabama, Indiana, Nevada, California, and Washington state to scout their talent. It’s fully understood that the main reason behind this is that there are more cities capable of supporting a team in the Eastern US than the Western US–as in there are no main level MiLB teams in Arizona anyway. But still, there is work that can be done to fix this.
-Efficient Geography within a League. This scenario honors the Leagues. The Carolina League, for instance, should ideally be comprised of teams in the Carolinas, right? That is the historical precedent, so why do we find ourselves in 2012 with only 37.5% of teams in the league from the Carolinas? Let’s fix that! While were at it, let’s fix all of the leagues as best that we can. In the minors, buses are often used to travel to play opposing teams within a league. Let’s help these small clubs save some miles.
-3 in, 3 out. I’ve previously ranted and raved about how upsetting it is that the AAA International League is comprised of 14 teams–all in the United States. Americans (*cough* Nolan Ryan *cough, cough*) keep poaching Canadian teams, and there is now only one team North of the border in all the minors, a Short-Season A Northwest League franchise located in Vancouver, BC. Their nickname? Why, the Canadians, of course. I attended a Canadians/Emeralds game while visiting Vancouver a few years back, and it was probably the most fun I’ve ever had at a ball game in my adult life. Canadians know how to have a good time, and that’s what the Minors is about–at least on a fan level. For this scenario, I created 3 new “expansion” teams. I say “expansion,” but since MiLB is synchronized with MLB affiliations, expansion teams don’t happen in one league without the other. Whatever…let’s pretend that the 3 teams I’m kicking out (Bakersfield, Palm Beach, and Dunedin) “moved” to Canada in a roundabout way.
-Oh, Canada! Montreal is a large city that once halfway supported an MLB franchise, the Expos. There have been rumors of a minor league team coming to Montreal already, so let’s just simulate it. I couldn’t think of a clever nickname for Montreal, but I wanted something French so until I think of something better, it will be the Montreal Joueurs–“players,” en Français. The Ottawa Lynx were forcibly moved Richmond recently. I don’t blame Richmond, because the city was still stinging from the Braves abandoning the city on the James for Gwinnett (suburban Atlanta) Georgia. Gwinnett as a AAA city is as ridiculous as, oh…a team in Round Rock, Texas. Anyway, bring back the Lynx! For my third, I choose to place a franchise in Hamilton, Ontario. Hamilton has supported MiLB teams in the past and has an appropriate stadium. The surprisingly good-sized city is located south of Toronto the western edge of Lake Ontario known as the Golden Horseshoe. I’m a sucker for alliteration, so Hamilton Horseshoes, it is. All 3 team will play in the International league and will make good on the term international.
-Bye, Bye Birdies. To make room for the Canada teams, three franchises face the ax. The most obvious of these is the pathetic Bakersfield Blaze, who consistently rank dead last in attendance of all 5 main levels of MiLB. That one’s a no-brainer. For the other two, I chose a pair of underachievers from the High-A Florida state league; the Palm Beach Cardinals and the Dunedin Blue Jays. These teams float along by playing in spring training facilities, and the local fans seem uninterested. The Blue Jays were second to last in attendance last year, and the Cards were fourth to last. The Cardinals also share a stadium and market with the Jupiter Hammerheads and both have weak attendance. As much as I like sharing, this is obviously not working. Jupiter does a little better, so the Cards get the ax. In a future post, I’ll explore rebranding possibilities to inject some life into these franchises, but for this scenario they don’t exist.
-Many Happy Returns. AAA may now consist of the International League and the Pacific Coast league, but as recent as 1997, there was another league called the American Association. It was mostly composed of Midwest region teams. I don’t know why it disbanded, but whoever let that happened should be kicked in the shin. For this scenario, we bring it back. Also making a return is the Portland Beavers. In my fantasy, the Tuscon Padres franchise (a team that’s currently for sale and looking to relocate) is brought to Portland, Oregon, and the Beavers receive another of their incarnations.
-Come on up! In all my MiLB realignment scenarios, I bring the Rookie Ball Pioneer League up to the level of Short-Season A. This gives all 30 MLB teams a short-season club, and the Pioneer League deserves it, as many of their clubs draw fans in the AA range.
I have a habit of being long-winded, so let’s just jump into it now, eh?
International League (10 teams) Montreal Joueurs, Ottawa Lynx, Hamilton Horseshoes, Toledo Mudhens, Columbus Clippers, Buffalo Bisons, Rochester Red Wings, Syracuse Chiefs, Lehigh Valley IronPigs, Pawtucket Red Sox.
American Association (10 teams) Iowa Cubs, Omaha Storm Chasers, Indianapolis Indians, Dayton Dragons, Memphis Redbirds, Louisville Bats, Durham Bulls, Gwinnett Braves, Oklahoma City RedHawks, Round Rock Express.
Pacific Coast League (10 teams) Tacoma Rainiers, Portland Beavers, Sacramento RiverCats, San Jose Giants, Fresno Grizzlies, Reno Aces, Las Vegas 51s, Albuquerque Isotopes, Salt Lake Bees, Colorado Springs SkySox.
Eastern League (12 teams) Scranton Yankees, Altoona Curve, Harrisburg Senators, Reading Phillies, New Britain Rock Cats, Portland Sea Dogs, New Hampshire Fisher Cats, Lakewood BlueClaws, Trenton Thunder, Norfolk Tides, Richmond Flying Squirrels, Wilmington Blue Rocks.
Texas League (8 teams) San Antonio Missions, Corpus Christi Hooks, Frisco Roughriders, Midland RockHounds, Tulsa Drillers, Arkansas Travelers, Northwest Arkansas Naturals, Springfield Cardinals
Southern League (10 teams) Mississippi Braves, Birmingham Barons, Montgomery Biscuits, Huntsville Stars, Mobile BayBears, New Orleans Zephyrs, Chattanooga Lookouts, Tennessee Smokies, Jackson Generals, Nashville Sounds
California League (8 teams) Stockton Ports, Visalia Rawhide, Modesto Nuts, Lancaster JetHawks, Lake Elsinore Storm, Rancho Cucamonga Quakes, High Desert Mavericks, Inland Empire 66ers of San Bernardino
Florida State League (12 teams) Jacksonville Suns, Pensacola Blue Wahoos, Tampa Yankees, Clearwater Threshers, Jupiter Hammerheads, Brevard County Manatees, Lakeland Flying Tigers, Charlotte Stone Crabs, Bradenton Marauders, Fort Myers Miracle, Daytona Cubs, St. Lucie Mets
Carolina League (10 teams) Carolina Mudcats, Charlotte Knights, Greensboro Grasshoppers, Asheville Tourists, Winston-Salem Dash, Hickory Crawdads, Kannapolis Intimidators, Myrtle Beach Pelicans, Charleston RiverDogs, Greenville Drive
Midwest League (16 teams) Beloit Snappers, Burlington Bees, Cedar Rapids Kernels, Clinton LumberKings, Quad Cities River Bandits, Peoria Chiefs, Kane County Cougars, South Bend Silver Hawks, Fort Wayne Tin Caps, Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, Lansing Lugnuts, West Michigan Whitecaps, Great Lakes Loons, Lake County Captains, Akron Aeros, Mahoning Valley Scrappers
South Atlantic League (14 teams) Savannah Sand Gnats, Augusta GreenJackets, Rome Braves, West Virginia Power, Lexington Legends, Bowling Green Hot Rods, Lynchburg Hillcats, Potomac Nationals, Salem Red Sox, Hagerstown Suns, Bowie BaySox, Delmarva Shorebirds, Frederick Keys, Aberdeen Ironbirds
New York-Penn League (14 teams) Brooklyn Cyclones, Staten Island Yankees, Auburn Doubledays, Batavia Muckdogs, Hudson Valley Renegades, Jamestown Jammers, Tri-City Valley Cats, Binghamton Mets, Erie Seawolves, Williamsport Crosscutters, State College Spikes, Lowell Spinners, Connecticut Tigers, Vermont Lake Monsters
Northwest League (8 teams) Everett Aquasox, Eugene Emeralds, Salem-Keizer Volcanoes, Yakima Bears/new Hillsboro franchise, Tri-Cities Dust Devils, Spokane Indians, Boise Hawks, Vancouver Canadians
Pioneer League (8 teams) Billings Mustangs, Missoula Osprey, Great Falls Voyagers, Idaho Falls Chukars, Helena Brewers, Ogden Raptors, Orem Owlz, Grand Junction Rockies
That is all.
Triumphs: The International league is international once again, the Pacific Coast League is more Pacific coast-y, the Carolina league is solidly Carolinean, and Ohio has been appropriately shaken up.
Issues: Speaking of Ohio, the Indians would have three of their current farm clubs all vying for attention in the Midwest League–good for the Reds, though. They’d get Dayton and Akron. All the Maryland teams are crammed into the Sally League and the New York-Penn League still isn’t fully NY-Penny. This scenario made obvious a problem in the current system. There should be a new league at an A level for Northeastern teams. Perhaps there are concerns about fields being too wet in the spring for full-season ball, but a New England League or a North Atlantic League would be nice. If they can do it in Wisconsin, they can do it in Vermont. I’ll have to explore that another time.
Next Steps: I’ll work on a new geographic scenario. Also, I may take the work I’ve done above and determine the MLB parent club of each team. There will be many more Sport Change posts about Minor League Baseball.
If you liked this post, you may like a previous Sport Change post on AAA reaffiliation.
Thanks for reading. Feel free to comment/start arguments.