September 26, 2006

Triple-a carousel

Growing up, I thought that relationships between major league teams and their farm teams were pretty set. Of course that was because the Orioles and Rochester Red Wings had a long term relationship. (The name Red Wings should have clued me that these things weren't written in stone; they were once a farm team of the St. Louis Cardinals.)

Four years ago I heard that the Orioles were losing their relationship with Rochester. Rochester was tired of getting no and little talent teams from the parent club and opted to a development deal with the Minnesota Twins, a team that actually had a player development plan.

Left out by the lapse of their deal with Rochester, the Orioles were forced to a player development deal with the Ottawa Lynx. Not an ideal location. (I'd guess that the two least desirable locations for a AAA team were Ottawa and Edmonton.)

So I was happy when I heard on the news this morning that the Orioles had reached a player development deal with Norfolk. Norfolk (formerly called Tidewater) had been the Mets' AAA team for 34 years. Frankly I was amazed. Now the AAA team won't be so far away.

Though this article was written before the deal was finalized it gives a reason why Norfolk was no longer interested in working with the Mets

The Tides chose to put a 38-year relationship with the Mets on hold at the conclusion of this past season, citing a series of communication breakdowns on the Mets’ part.

From what's been written the Orioles haven't exactly been an easy team to do business with recently. So I'm wondering if this is the main reason or just a pretext. There was a positive reason for Norfolk to affiliate with the Orioles though

Over the summer, Tides owner Young formed a new ownership group that purchased three minor-league teams in Maryland, all with affiliations to the Orioles. The three teams – the Delmarva Shorebirds, Frederick Keys and Bowie Baysox – were all owned previously, by an arm group of Comcast SportsNet. Comcast, which can be seen locally on Cox Communications, broadcasts Orioles games.

And I have to wonder if perhaps Norfolk maybe had positive experiences with Jim Duquette who had been in the Mets front office and is now with the Orioles.

But the Orioles moving their AAA team to Norfolk is one of several moves going on. In a move to bring its AAA team closer to the major league team the Yankees have allowed their player development contract with Columbus to lapse after 28 years.

It is believed that Yankees general manager Brian Cashman wants his triple-A team closer to New York. Scranton, Pa., approximately 120 miles west of New York City, is available since the Philadelphia Phillies allowed their contract to lapse. The team currently known as the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barrons will play in Allentown in 2008, and Philadelphia is rumored to be planning to play its top minor-league team in Ottawa for the 2007 season.

It is not known whether or not the team will keep the nickname Red Barons, but a poll is against keeping the name.

And the early results show that this was an excellent business decision.

Yes, the news Thursday that the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons had signed a two-year affiliation agreement with New York set off a torrent of emotions innumerable times greater than the relative disinterest in Columbus when the Yankees decided last week to end their 28-year partnership with the Clippers.

How big a deal is it in northeast Pennsylvania?

The Red Barons sold more than 47,000 tickets on Thursday and the phones rang nonstop Friday. The staff’s e-mail boxes were stuffed, too, and the team suggested fans go to the stadium to get order forms.

A Red Barons official said it is conceivable they could sell out every game this season in 11,000-seat Lackawanna County Stadium in Moosic, Pa.

That’s despite a 52 percent increase in the cost of a season ticket to $648 from $425 (a Clippers season ticket cost $395 in 2006, but the Red Barons have free parking).

The Red Barons sold 2,075 season tickets this year when they averaged 5,533 as a Philadelphia farm team compared with 7,519 for the Clippers.

Meanwhile someone wanted Ottawa for a farm team. The Phillies. But they plan to move the team to Allentown.

That leaves the Mets and Nationals without affiliates.

Well maybe not. The Nationals have concluded a deal with the Clippers (who will keep their nickname) for a 2 year player development contract. Columbus does not want a longer contract (according to reports standard player development contracts run 2 or 4 years) so after the 2008 season it would have the possibility of snagging the Reds' or Indians' farm teams. (The interest in a AAA affiliate of one of the Ohio teams is likely to be extremely popular. I'd guess that the Pirates could also be a good candidate; before the Yankees the Clippers had been a Pirates' affiliate for two years.)

That means that it appears that the Mets will end up with the New Orleans Zephyrs.

Wow. Things are really changing.

UPDATE: This made it to Ballbug. (That's Memeorandum for baseball.) Thanks to Maryland Conservatarian's kind mention and check out his memories of Norfolk's old stadium.

I hadn't seen this before, but it has excellent background information on the Orioles deal with Norfolk, and mentions clustering that's becoming popular among baseball farm systems.

A commenter at Baseball Crank asked about the value of minor league franchises may be interested in this article about the sale of 3 of the Orioles Maryland based farm teams to Ken Young the owner of the Norfolk Tides.

Philadelphia-based Comcast-Spectacor, the sports and entertainment arm of cable giant Comcast, is in final negotiations to sell the Baysox to Ken Young, owner of the Norfolk Tides, according to two sources close to the deal. Comcast and Young are waiting on the approval of major and minor league baseball officials before the deal can be announced.
The (Norfolk) Virginian-Pilot reported earlier this month that Young is close to completing a deal for the three teams.

The sales price is thought to be close to the $29 million fee Comcast-Spectacor paid for the three teams in 2000, according to a source familiar with the deal.

The pending sale comes 17 months after Comcast-Spectacor's deal to sell controlling interest in the teams to a Massachusetts investment group fell through.

Minor League Baseball has been a hot market for new owners in recent years, driven by the low operating costs -- player salaries are tiny compared with their major league counterparts -- and rising attendance nationwide. The league, comprising 176 teams, has set attendance records in each of the last three seasons.

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Posted by SoccerDad at September 26, 2006 9:12 PM | TrackBack
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FWIW regarding the Timesleader article, the (now since departed to Greensboro) Columbia, SC SAL team was the Capital City Bombers; named in honor of Doolittle's Raiders who trained for their mission nearby. I got to see Jose Reyes and David Wright take their first pro ball steps there. Utterly horrible little park, which is why the franchise moved out -- no one put together a plan for a new stadium.

Posted by: rbj at September 27, 2006 12:51 PM