SBJ/September 11 - 17, 2006/This Weeks News

Minor league clubs begin affiliation change-up

Minor League Baseball’s biennial affiliation dance began last week, with roughly two dozen clubs expected to change partnerships with major league teams.

The Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons
are losing their affiliation with the Phillies.
The monthlong process will likely involve about as many teams as in 2004, when 25 minor league clubs changed affiliations, MiLB executives said. The current cycle, however, could break up some long-standing relationships at the Class AAA level thanks to the Philadelphia Phillies’ impending separation from Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Pa.

The Phillies will end a 17-year partnership with the Red Barons and intend to field their AAA team next season in Ottawa. After a one-year stay there, the Phillies plan to have the team play in a new ballpark being built in Allentown, Pa., and scheduled for completion in 2008.

Scranton/Wilkes-Barre will keep its license to operate a AAA team, though, so the Phillies’ move will set off a domino effect of changes. MLB candidates to fill the market include Baltimore, which operates its top minor league club in Ottawa; Washington, whose AAA club plays in New Orleans but is undergoing a top-to-bottom review of its minor league operations under new owner Ted Lerner; and the New York Yankees and Mets.

The Yankees have fielded their AAA team in Columbus, Ohio, since 1979, and the Mets have operated theirs in Norfolk, Va., since 1969.

For all four MLB franchises, the chance to run part of their minor league system closer to their home market presents an intriguing possibility. None of the four clubs has announced a Class AAA renewal, which has been permitted since midsummer.

The Chicago White Sox, whose AAA team is in Charlotte, also could be on the move.

“A dynamic is starting that over the next couple of weeks will begin to take on a life of its own,” said Pat O’Conner, MiLB chief operating officer and vice president of administration. “This can be a painful time for some people. We’re essentially talking about new marriages that clubs are entering into or breaking apart.”

Red Barons general manager Jeremy Ruby said his preference would be to affiliate with the Yankees, given the strong fan affinity for the team in northeast Pennsylvania. But the Red Barons will be just one of many participants in the process. Minor and major league clubs have until today to notify Minor League Baseball of their intent to affiliate with someone else. MiLB will then distribute a list of candidates for new affiliations. Between Saturday and Sept. 30, teams on that list may negotiate with one another. If certain teams cannot complete a deal on their own during this time, MiLB will then assign affiliations, though such a step is uncommon.

“If we could get the Yankees, that would probably be the biggest sports announcement in the history of this area,” Ruby said.

MiLB goes through the affiliation process during each even-numbered year, with teams signing two- or four-season player development contracts.

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