AAA Affiliate Changes for the 2009 Season

AAA Shuffle

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As many regular visitors to the website may notice I’m a bit of a Bisons fan. This has always worked out well for me. I’ve been a Cleveland Indians fan for over 15 years at this point and having access to the Tribes young prospects close by has always been a personal plus for me.

But heading into the 2008 season I was concerned and kinda disappointed that the writing was on the wall for the Buffalo affiliation of the Indians. Columbus, having just lost the Yankees franchise, was building a great looking new ballpark for the 2009 season. Here’s an artists rendering:

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With it now in vogue to have your AAA franchise as close to the big club as possible, the Indians moving to Columbus was pretty much a given. The Pirates were accepted to rejoin the Bisons, having been the affiliate back in the 80’s and for a few seasons in the early 90’s.

However, the Pirates ended up staying with their affiliate in Indy. This was a relief on a personal level, as the Pirates, even with their years of high draft picks, have a very weak top level system at this current time.

This left the Jays and Mets without a home. Rumors went back and forth between which team would move to Buffalo. After basically being kicked out of Syracuse due to poor play, the Toronto Blue Jays were the front runners. A few weeks back Toronto GM JP Ricciardi came out with the following quote pertaining to moving the affiliate to Buffalo:

“It would be ideal for us,” said Toronto GM J.P. Ricciardi, who confirmed the Blue Jays are parting with Syracuse. “There’s a couple of things up in the air. Hopefully, within the next week we’ll be able to see how it’s going to work out … Syracuse is only four hours away. If you look at the way baseball is shaping up, most of the teams, they have their triple-A club really close, so it would be nice if we could keep doing that.”

I had thought this had sealed the deal. A GM wouldn’t go public with this kind of comment unless he had something on the go.

But a few weeks later syracuse.com broke a story that was later verified, proclaiming the New York Mets as the new Buffalo affiliate. This was made official at a press conference in Buffalo on Monday, with personal, including Mets GM Omar Minaya:

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In the meantime the other AAA affiliates left open were snapped up. The Marlins completed their expected move into New Orleans and the Nationals now call Syracuse home. This left the Jays out of luck, having to move all of the way out to Vegas. Jays brass tried to put a positive spin on the move but this quote from Las Vegas 51’s president Don Logan is a rarity in todays game. It displays his disappointment in the relationship and calls it what it is, a temporary solution.:

“It is what it is. We’re going to make the most of it…Obviously there are a lot more Dodgers fans here than Blue Jays fans . . . but we’re going to try to do some more things promotionally, and we want to grow the business.”

The 51’s have yet to even acknowledge the move on their official website.

As for the Blue Jays, well things will change. Their whole scouting staff will have to be overhauled. Prior to this move the Jays had all of their teams with the exception of Dunedin within a close proximity. Rookie level in Lansing, Michigan, low A in Auburn, New York (near Syracuse), AA in New Hampshire and AAA in Syracuse. Expenses will probably rise as new personnel will have to be hired or moved out to Las Vegas. The Jays will also not be able to rotate scouts from their other minor league teams. The PCL is a hitters league, differing from the pitching oriented International League. The worst case scenario for the Toronto Blue Jays has now come. On the plus side the contract is only for two seasons. If the Jays are serious about improving their chances of re-entry into the International League they will need to focus on fielding winning ballclubs. This can present a problem with developing players however, as this usually requires stocking the AAA club with veterans.

In the end things worked out pretty well for the Bisons. Buffalo crowds usually sported Indians or Yankees merchandise. With the move I can see fans drifting towards more of a Mets fanbase. At least when Scranton (Yankees affiliate) come to town they’ll have the makings of some fun ballgames and lively crowds. The Indians couldn’t be happier as well, having a new ballpark and both AA (Akron/Canton) and AAA teams in their home state of Ohio. On the whole this years AAA shuffle worked out well for most of the parities that were involved.



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has written for mopupduty.com since 2006. Follow Matthias on Twitter, Facebook and Google +

  • Tight _PP

    Who gets to make the call on the locations and affiliations in AAA? AAA teams can tell the MLB teams to take a hike? Did the Phillys not pull the Lynx down to Allentown. Could the Jays bring a team closer?

  • Late reply:

    Once a contract is up between a local franchise (lets say AA) and the MLB parent both have the right to walk.

    The Phillies decided to leave Ottawa not so much due to poor attendance but due to geography. This is the norm these days. Have your minor league teams as close to home in the higher levels (AAA & AA). High A is located in warm weather states and low A, RK is scattered.

    The Jays tried to get a closer AAA affiliate but no one wanted anything to do with them due to the poor performance over the past half-decade. The only fit would have been Buffalo. Of course the Bisons would rather have the home state Mets vs the out of country Jays.

  • I haven’t been able to find anything on how AAA clubs move. We were talking about this on Saturday and I don’t think you understood what I was getting at.

    To my understanding the PCL and IL have an organised league with so many teams in settled cities. The AAA teams are not owned by the major league team but merely affiliated. I know Syracuse is community owned etc. So, how does a AAA team go about relocating. How does the IL have Ottawa move to Allentown? Is this instigated by the ownership of the Ottawa franchise? There have been successful AAA clubs that have moved because of location ie) Hawaii, Edmonton and some others. Do the owners of the AAA teams have to relocated because they cannot attract an affiliate?

    What I want to know is…if the Blue Jays say to Las Vegas, we do not want you as an affiliate because you are too far. Move closer to Toronto or we will end our affiliation. The owners of the 51’s say, “We like LV, we are successful here we will look for another affiliate.” If the search comes up dry, do the 51’s fold? Do they become independant? If Toronto wants a team back in the IL is it in the IL’s interest to expand? Can Toronto disperse it’s AAA players to other teams on loans? I know major league teams have operated without AAA affiliates in the last 5 years. Nationals for sure and I think the Mets have as well.

  • JIK

    Early asks some good questions that I can’t answer them, but for what it’s worth, I’ll throw out some background as I remember it. The move from Ottawa to Lehigh Valley was part of the Phillies’ plan even BEFORE they became affiliated with the Ottawa Lynx. Ottawa had been with the Expos for years, and when the Expos left Montreal to become the Washington Nationals, it sparked a domino effect that set off many of these recent moves. Apparently the Ottawa team agreed to the temporary affiliation with Philly, knowing that theirs was a dying franchise. That allowed Phils to leave Scranton, sent the Yanks out of Columbus, moved the Mets from Norfolk to New Orleans (very temporarily), etc. For the most part, IL teams have been pretty stable over the years. Rochester was an Orioles team forEVER (but not anymore), PawSox and Richmond Braves don’t seem to be going anywhere. One notable move from awhile back: Mets AAA team moved from Tidewater to Norfolk but kept the name “Tides.” And whatever happened to the Charleston Charlies? They MAY have been the forerunner for Ottawa, but I could be wrong. One other semi-related thought: It was a dirty shame back in about 1987 when the Mets pulled their single-A affiliation out of Little Falls, NY and set up a team in Pittsford, MA. Little Falls had a gem of a ballfield (and very little else for local people to get excited about). A tough loss for a nice, working-class community. Sorry for all the rambling. I am a season ticket holder for the Syracuse Chiefs, dating back to the MacArthur Stadium days.

  • Roger

    Every current AAA team will always have a major league affiliate no matter where they are located and here’s why. Each minor league team holds a license issued by major league baseball. The only way a minor league team can lose a license would be via a serious violation i.e.: not upgrading their stadium to major league standards. The only way a team moves is if the owner of the team moves it for financial reasons or sells the team and the new owner chooses to move. In the case of Syracuse they are community owned and I’m told have one of the best faculties around that include indoor batting cages etc. Chances are very slim they would move or have their license revoked. As far as location of the minor league team with the major league team, that’s up to both parties to negotiate. If no deal was struck between two or three clubs by the end of September at the time the contract is up then major league baseball assigns teams to an affiliate.