Many changes expected in minor league team affiliations
Minor League Baseball this week begins a team reaffiliation period that could levy sizable changes across the organization.
Major and minor league teams are allowed to seek new affiliate partners each September in even-numbered years, and the 2018 period running through Sept. 30 is expected to produce at least a dozen shifts.
That number would equal the number of changes in the 2016 cycle. But unlike that prior reaffiliation window that was almost entirely concentrated on the Class A level, this year’s cycle is already set to alter the landscape of the Class AAA Pacific Coast League.
Class AAA teams without a set MLB partner for 2019
■ Las Vegas
■ Round Rock
■ San Antonio
MLB teams without a set Class AAA partner for 2019
The key catalyst in the PCL changes will be the Las Vegas 51s, which have been affiliated with the New York Mets for the past six seasons. The Mets last year purchased the Class AAA Syracuse Chiefs in an effort to bring its top minor league affiliate much closer to Citi Field beginning in 2019. That purchase forces the Washington Nationals to seek a new partner at that level of play and leaves the 51s open to partner with another MLB club.
On top of being a geographically unattractive option for East Coast MLB teams, the 51s historically were also not a favored option for major league affiliates due to the outdated Cashman Field. But the 51s are set to open a new state-of-the-art ballpark next spring and introduce a new team name. And with Las Vegas now home to the NHL’s Golden Knights and soon the NFL’s Oakland Raiders, the market now presents a variety of new opportunities for minor league development.
The 51s’ forthcoming new stadium is consistent with an increasing demand by major league clubs to see upgraded facilities among their minor league affiliates. That same demand was part of the Class AAA Pawtucket Red Sox’s planned move to Worcester, Mass.
“The quality of the minor league facility is increasingly a key factor in who major league clubs choose to work with along with, of course, geography and working relationships,” said Tim Brunswick, MiLB vice president of baseball and business operations.
Beyond the 51s, the California-based Elmore Sports Group will be a center of change in this reaffiliation cycle. The longtime owner of minor league baseball and hockey franchises is relocating the Class AAA Colorado Springs Sky Sox to San Antonio, the existing Class AA San Antonio Missions to Amarillo, Texas., and the Rookie-level Helena (Mont.) Brewers to Colorado Springs.
None of the three have major league partners set for 2019, and those relocations could prompt further affiliate changes. In addition to Las Vegas and San Antonio, four other PCL clubs have open affiliations, with the Houston Astros in particular strongly rumored to be planning to leave Fresno and return their top affiliation to Round Rock, Texas.