SBJ/20100913/This Weeks Issue

MiLB expects fewer affiliation changes

The biennial Minor League Baseball affiliation dance will formally begin Thursday, when major and minor league teams can sign player development contracts with new partners. But this year’s process overall is expected to be quieter than the 2006 and 2008 cycles, when about two dozen teams in the affiliated minor leagues changed partners each time.

The last two cycles were marked particularly by significant movement at the Class AAA level, as six clubs at that highest minor league tier switched in 2008, and five did so in 2006.

At press time, seven Class AAA player development contracts will expire with the conclusion of the minor league teams’ 2010 seasons, but only two affiliations are certain to change: The Texas Rangers, now owned by Chuck Greenberg and Nolan Ryan, are not renewing their deal with the Oklahoma City RedHawks and are strongly expected to align with the Round Rock (Texas) Express, co-owned by Ryan. The Express has been partnered with the Houston Astros.

The movement this time is likely to be concentrated more at the Class A level, Minor League Baseball executives said. “We had a lot of two-year deals the last time, teams trying each other out, that have since been renewed, so I’m not anticipating the kind of wholesale changes we’ve had in the past,” said Tim Purpura, MiLB executive vice president and chief operating officer.

Over the past decade, the affiliated minor leagues have taken on much greater importance not only from a player development standpoint, but also as marketing assets and sources of media content. Additionally, there has been a push among many major league clubs to group their minor league affiliates in tighter geographic clusters, yielding benefits with regard to marketing, travel and, in some cases, joint ticket and sponsorship sales.

Teams are typically not allowed to comment publicly on their affiliation intentions until a contract is signed and approved. But Reid Ryan, president and chief executive of multiteam operator Ryan-Sanders Baseball, which owns the Express, said a deal with the Rangers would be popular with Round Rock fans.

“Our fans love Nolan,” Ryan said of his father. “We have filed that we are not renewing [with Houston] and we’re going to see what our options are and let the process play out. It really had nothing to do with the Astros. But if it happens that we’re able to align with the Rangers, it would go over very well with our fan base.”

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