Baseball To Make A New Business Pitch Soon
COMSTOCK PARK — When Major League Baseball eliminates a pair of franchises from its 30-team lineup next month, the consequences will be felt throughout the business. The loss of two MLB teams will snowball, meaning that at least 10 minor-league franchises will be affected. And the impact will roll all the way down, starting at the Triple A level in places like Buffalo and not stopping until it reaches the rookie tier in Missoula.
Closer to home, the Class A Midwest League will lose one, and possibly two, affiliations.
MLB owners plan to name the franchises they will buy out in a few weeks at their winter meetings. Candidates for expulsion include Montreal, Minnesota, Florida and Oakland. But the “M&Ms”, Montreal and Minnesota, are seen by most as frontrunners for extinction.
Beyond that, the four candidates each have five minor-league affiliations. So, in effect, 20 minor-league franchise owners aren’t sure of their immediate future right now.
Three of the four cited MLB teams have agreements with the Midwest League. Quad City is aligned with Minnesota and Clinton is tied to Montreal. Those franchises finished 10th and 11th, respectively, in attendance in the 14-team league last season. Florida supplies players to Kane County, which finished second in the 2001 attendance race. All three make annuals visits to Fifth Third Park to play the West Michigan Whitecaps. As for Oakland, it hasn’t had a Midwest affiliate since the Whitecaps signed with Detroit.
“It’s a challenging situation. There’s no question that it leaves the status of as many as 10 to 12 minor league affiliations — or PDCs, player development contracts — up in the air. And how (MLB owners) are going to deal with that, we don’t know yet,” said Lew Chamberlin, Whitecaps co-owner and managing partner.
What will happen to the Midwest franchises aligned with the MLB teams that will be banished soon depends as much on what the owners of these businesses do as it does on what the majors do. MLB Commissioner Bud Selig reportedly told Mike Moore, president of Minor League Baseball, that PDCs throughout the lower levels will be honored when the upper tier cuts are made.
“I can tell you right now, they’re not going to be gone,” said Chamberlin of the franchises at risk.
“It’s just a question of how are those PDCs going to be fulfilled, if you will. Major League Baseball has an agreement with Minor League Baseball that it will provide so many player-development contracts, and it has given every indication and assured us that those franchises will be taken care of,” he said. “We’re not going to lose 10 to 12 minor-league teams.”
But how MLB owners will keep their promise is still up for grabs and probably won’t be known for weeks. Most MLB teams only have one affiliation at each top minor league level. So with two fewer teams, some may have to double up or partner with someone else on a PDC. Lower level teams, such as A leagues and rookie ball, may be easier to staff as more players are available at those levels. Still, MLB owners aren’t saying anything now.
“We’re kind of taking them at their word right now that they are good for their commitment, that those PDCs will be fulfilled in one manner or another,” said Chamberlin. “But exactly how it’s going to happen, we don’t know the answer to that yet.”
The Midwest League will hold its winter meetings just days before MLB owners convene theirs. The 2002 Midwest schedule is out and Clinton, Kane County and Quad City are each set to play four games at Fifth Third Park this summer, and Chamberlin said he expects that all 12 games will be played.
When the Whitecaps switched their alignment from Oakland to Detroit a few years back, the move was made without any thought that the West Coast franchise would be on the bubble of extinction. So being tied to Detroit means that Chamberlin and Dennis Baxter, his partner in the franchise, can both breathe a little easier.
“We would be wondering and, perhaps, fretting a lot more about the details than we are now, because obviously the Tigers are not a candidate for contraction. Therefore, all those relationships we have are solid,” said Chamberlin. “So we’re not fretting quite as much as the teams in Clinton, Kane County and Quad City.”
And Chamberlin added that if his franchise was still aligned with Oakland and that team was dismissed, he felt that baseball would still be played in Comstock Park. Why? Because the club drew nearly 423,000 paying customers this year, more than 148 other minor-league teams did, and did so in one of the minors’ best parks.
“I have the feeling that we would be a very attractive candidate for every major league team out there,” he said. “And I think if we were to somehow lose our affiliation, there would be 28 others knocking on our door.”