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Will St. Paul Saints Pay to Become Minnesota Twins Affiliate?

La Velle E. Neal III of the Star Tribune reported the Twins officially informed the Rochester Red Wings they will no longer be the team’s Triple-A affiliate, and that the St. Paul Saints could become their replacement. Do the Twins need the Saints more than the Saints need the Twins?
Image courtesy of Tom Froemming, Midway Stadium 2011
The part of La Velle’s article (which I encourage you to read because it includes much more detail than what we’re going to go into here) that really struck me is that the Saints would have to pay to become a Twins affiliate. Perhaps as much as $20 million! La Velle did mention the Twins could ultimately pitch in to cover at least part of that cost.

This payment would go to Minor League Baseball, and is standard for new franchises, but this is not a typical franchise.

The Saints represent outlaw baseball. Behind owners Mike Veeck and Bill Murray, they established a quirky brand of minor league baseball and entertainment that has since been universally adopted across all levels of the minors. In addition to helping ballplayers continue their professional careers, they’ve even served as an opportunity for some amatures to stick it to Major League Baseball (most famously J.D. Drew in 1997).

The Saints also represented an opportunity for fans to stick it to MLB. Established in 1993, the Saints were well-positioned to embrace baseball fans who turned bitter from the 1994 strike. It also didn’t hurt that the Twins were terrible in the mid-90s.

It may be difficult to capture the original spirit surrounding the Saints these days, seeing as the team is such an established entity in the Minnesota baseball scene and plays in a gorgeous state-of-the-art ballpark in lowertown St. Paul. There’s nothing that really screams “outlaw” about that. Things have changed, and for the better. Midway Stadium (pictured above) definitely has its charms, but CHS Field is a gem.

Their brand of baseball and entertainment has always made the Saints a strong draw, but the new ballpark has really created a boom. In 2019, the Saints' average attendance was 8,061. Can you guess how many of the 160 affiliated minor league baseball teams beat that mark?

Just seven.

Taking a look at the Twins’ top two affiliates, the Red Wings averaged 6,846 fans and the Pensacola Blue Wahoos, despite a jaw-droppingly beautiful stadium, averaged 4,354. These numbers are all from the excellent resource Ballpark Digest (affiliated attendance here, independent attendance here).

While the Saints are one of the most popular minor league baseball teams, most of their independent counterparts don’t have as much to boast about. Of the 40 indy league teams that operated in 2019, only five others attracted even half of the Saints’ average attendance, and four of those five play in a different league.

There’s no question the St. Paul Saints can stand on their own, but what about the rest of their current league? Will enough teams survive COVID-19 to keep the American Association afloat? I believe this will be among the biggest determining factors in whether or not the Saints will be interested in becoming an affiliate of the Twins, or any other MLB team for that matter.

At the same time, I’m not certain the American Association, which is based out of Moorhead, can survive without the Saints.

Veeck has expressed an openness to work with MLB, but is also keen to the fact that it may not be popular with some of their current base. Here’s what he told the Pioneer Press’ John Shipley in July:

“I think it would be fascinating to know, what do the fans think? Obviously, I would love to know the answer. What if you did a poll and said to the fans and said, ‘Would being a major league affiliate, aside from it being the Twins – with it just being a Double-A or Triple-A team – would it enhance the Saints or would it detract?’”

Outside of the fan perspective, I can’t imagine indy teams are looking at what MLB is doing to its current affiliates and thinking “gosh, I’d really like to go into business with them.” It all comes down to money, of course, but watching MLB ruthlessly cut 40 minor league teams out of affiliated ball has to make indy teams uneasy about aligning with them.

From the Twins’ perspective, this makes all the sense in the world. Having a minor league affiliate so close would be a great relief in terms of travel and transactions, and CHS Field has been lauded not only for the facility itself but also the playing surface. That may not sound like a big deal, but when you have guys on rehab assignments you don’t want to send them somewhere that has a sub-par field.

Aligning with the Saints would also effectively eliminate them as competition. You may not think of it this way, but the Twins and Saints are competing for attention from a similar fanbase in the same market. This is another thing that may be difficult to comprehend today, but it was definitely a factor in the mid-90s.

Personally, I’d love to have the opportunity to watch a Twins minor league affiliate without having to travel so far. I’m getting excited just thinking about it, to be honest. At the same time, I have to imagine things wouldn’t quite be the same with the Saints being an affiliated team. At the very least, they wouldn’t be able to do promotions like this one.

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36 Comments

The question, in my opinion, is can the Saints provide the same fan experience as an affiliate as they provided as an independent league team? 

 

That needs to be considered with and against being the AAA affiliate of the MLB team across the river?

    • glunn, jjswol, DocBauer and 2 others like this

 

The question, in my opinion, is can the Saints provide the same fan experience as an affiliate as they provided as an independent league team? 

 

That needs to be considered with and against being the AAA affiliate of the MLB team across the river?

 

Good point Seth, I would guess not. I'm sure that MiLB has rules to follow and some of the entertainment that the Saints provide might not fit the Twins or MLB standards. Never the less there is something to be said for having your AAA or even AA team across the river.

 

I would not pay that exorbitant fee if I were the Saints.This is moving a franchise from Rochester to St Paul, why would the Saints pay $20 M for that?If anything MLB should pay $20 M to the American Association.

 

It is wise to have the minor league team across the river.There are so many logistical advantages.

 

But part of the Saints appeal is that it is not MLB.Does St Paul want to be known as the minor league home of MLB and Minneapolis the major?Lots to unfold here. 

 

Minor leagues will never be the same again and MLB has to do some soul searching. If they are looking at cost benefit then Duluth and Rochester could have A and AA teams, but not if the cities have to pay millions to do so.

    • glunn and woolywoolhouse like this
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Doctor Gast
Nov 11 2020 11:48 AM

Veek said he`s open to be a MLB team affiliate. I don`t know if they are open for a MLB team other the Twins, if that could be the case that`d be sad. I`d love to watch all our high prospects at CHS. To change to be an affiliate doesn`t mean they have to change how they do baseball there, does it?

The way Falvine taxis guys back and forth, I wonder if the Pohlads are making this move because they saw the travel costs.
    • mikelink45 likes this

I would not pay that exorbitant fee if I were the Saints. This is moving a franchise from Rochester to St Paul, why would the Saints pay $20 M for that? If anything MLB should pay $20 M to the American Association.

It is wise to have the minor league team across the river. There are so many logistical advantages.

But part of the Saints appeal is that it is not MLB. Does St Paul want to be known as the minor league home of MLB and Minneapolis the major? Lots to unfold here.

Minor leagues will never be the same again and MLB has to do some soul searching. If they are looking at cost benefit then Duluth and Rochester could have A and AA teams, but not if the cities have to pay millions to do so.


I don’t think it changes the appeal to its current fans. But, it’ll lure in many more MLB fans who follow prospects and brings the exposure to a national level, especially if you’re getting big name prospects through there occasionally.

I think it could be a big deal in terms of generating some growth for the Saints.

How does it work with coaching? If a player doesn’t have his contract selected by the big club, could that player legally come practice with the team? I’d jump all over that if I’m the Twins. Getting guys like Duran and Balazovic bullpens with the big league coaches every week would be very appealing.
    • glunn, Wizard11 and arby58 like this

 

I don’t think it changes the appeal to its current fans. But, it’ll lure in many more MLB fans who follow prospects and brings the exposure to a national level, especially if you’re getting big name prospects through there occasionally.

I think it could be a big deal in terms of generating some growth for the Saints.

How does it work with coaching? If a player doesn’t have his contract selected by the big club, could that player legally come practice with the team? I’d jump all over that if I’m the Twins. Getting guys like Duran and Balazovic bullpens with the big league coaches every week would be very appealing.

$20 Million is too steep of a price.I would worry about MLBs next step to take over the minors, control their revenues and limit their opportunities.

    • jrod23 likes this

The way Falvine taxis guys back and forth, I wonder if the Pohlads are making this move because they saw the travel costs.


It certainly doesn’t hurt. Though I think the better benefit is on the player development side. No one else in baseball is able to drive 15 min to their AAA team and check out their players in real time.
    • glunn, mikelink45, Wizard11 and 1 other like this

 

$20 Million is too steep of a price.I would worry about MLBs next step to take over the minors, control their revenues and limit their opportunities.

They should certainly be worried about MLB and what moves they may make to control things, but why do you feel $20 mil is too much? I'd assume there's a path to significant revenue increases by being affiliated and having a more national brand while playing in front of larger road crowds and getting Twins fans who don't currently care about the Saints more interested.

    • glunn, MN_ExPat and arby58 like this
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RochesterDave
Nov 11 2020 06:32 PM
This is a heartbreaking event, especially since the AAA Twins team will be loaded. The Red Wing fans will miss this affiliation, as the Twins were a class act over the 17 years. I remember in the early days of the affiliation seeing Terry
Ryan behind home plate watching his young players and always being friendly to the Rochester fans. I understand the distance situation, but there are(were) a few Delta non-stops daily. I became a Twins fan in 2003, and I shall continue as such.
    • ashbury, glunn, USNMCPO and 7 others like this

St.Paul as a AAA affiliate would be awesome.Personally, I'd rather see it be their AA affiliate since that's where they typically store their top prospects.No doubt having St.Paul as the alternative site pointed out how too convenient it'd be to have one of their top minor league teams there.

    • glunn and PDX Twin like this
There’s another shoe that would need to drop, right? St. Paul would need a league to play in. They’re not a fit geographically with the IL as it currently exists...not by any stretch of the imagination. Especially heading into an era where cost containment in the affiliated minor leagues would seem to be a growing concern. The PCL isn’t as much of a stretch geographically...but, presumably, the PCL isn’t the league looking for a replacement for Rochester. FWIW, I hope the Saints stay independent. It’s a death blow to quality independent ball in the Midwest if they lose St. Paul...and I’d hate to see that.
    • glunn and jrod23 like this

The Twins seem to have no concern about dumping a Minor League franchise location. I don't see it as a history to bank on for the Saints ownership. Is it against the rules for the Twins to pony up the 20 million? It seems to be only fair. Otherwise, just what are the benefits to the Saints? I don't see any. And how is the scheduling to come down. If both are playing in the same town on the same day, I don't see how competing with themselves for fans in the seats is a good arrangement.

    • glunn and jrod23 like this

I think the MLB ownership rings have really exposed themselves.I feel as if they'd try to sell ketchup popsicles with white gloves to the Saints.Saints are too smart for that.If I were the Saints, I'd listen, but say no and to get the hell outta my office.This coming from a minor league enthusiast who LOVES traveling to see affiliated stadiums across the country, not to mention the prospects.The minors have an undeniable charm that can't be matched, and I pray that the MLB owners haven't ruined that for the remaining teams.  

 

I saw in the Strib article that they are thinking of putting the Low-A league in Florida and readjusting to help make the Midwest League part of the AAA league.That doesn't make sense, being over half the stadiums in the Midwest League don't have anything remotely close to a AAA stadium.However, the travel in the Florida State League for Low-A does make sense.

 

Could you imagine being a minor league affiliate right now?Sitting in debt from the coronavirus, and now sitting and waiting for a schedule in 2021?Waiting to do anything because now the MLB owners make all the calls instead of your independently owned team?I sure hope they haven't absolutely ruined the minors.

    • glunn and h2oface like this
For those worried about competition for attendance, it’s about 50 miles from Cincinnati to the Reds’ Class A affiliate in Dayton, and the Dragons have repeatedly broken their own attendance records year after year since becoming a Reds affiliate over 20 years ago, including the longest sellout streak in US professional sports.
    • glunn, Major League Ready, Vanimal46 and 1 other like this
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woolywoolhouse
Nov 12 2020 09:17 AM

So the Twins cut ties with Rochester and Pensacola before securing a new relationship with St. Paul? What happens if the Saints say no? Do the Twins try and pick from another nearby American Association team? Can any of them afford $20 million?

    • glunn likes this
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Major League Ready
Nov 12 2020 09:24 AM

 

The Twins seem to have no concern about dumping a Minor League franchise location. I don't see it as a history to bank on for the Saints ownership. Is it against the rules for the Twins to pony up the 20 million? It seems to be only fair. Otherwise, just what are the benefits to the Saints? I don't see any. And how is the scheduling to come down. If both are playing in the same town on the same day, I don't see how competing with themselves for fans in the seats is a good arrangement.

 

The Saints coexist with the Twins just fine so why would it all the sudden be a problem if they were a AAA team? 

    • chpettit19 and Nine of twelve like this
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Dodecahedron
Nov 12 2020 09:32 AM

To answer the question in the title, I would think the money would need to come from the MLB team. It does not make much sense for a minor league team to pay its own league for the right to become an affiliate. It would certainly make sense for the MLB team to need to pay for the privilege.

 

 

    • glunn likes this
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nowheresville
Nov 12 2020 09:38 AM

 

it’s about 50 miles from Cincinnati to the Reds’ Class A affiliate in Dayton

 

An A ball team 50 miles away, in a different media market, and a AAA team 12 miles away are a bit of a different story. The better comparisons would be Seattle/Tacoma or Atlanta/Gwinette which are about 35 miles between MLB and AAA. Of course they make it work - and frankly, the Saints already have shown it can work.

 

While someone who reads a Twins blog is going to care about watching prospects, the average MILB fan is going for the corporate outing, going for cheap beer, and the wacky antics that aren't going to go away (most minor league teams today are mimicing what the Saints have been doing for years). The advantage for the Saints would primarily be stability, that indy ball just can't provide as noted by the number of times the Saints have changed leagues over the years.

 

    • glunn, chpettit19 and Vanimal46 like this
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nowheresville
Nov 12 2020 09:48 AM

 

St. Paul would need a league to play in.The PCL isn’t as much of a stretch geographically...but, presumably, the PCL isn’t the league looking for a replacement for Rochester.

 

St. Paul would clearly slot into the current PCL, right along with Des Moines and Omaha. 

 

Rochester isn't going away away as a AAA club, they'll just be getting a different franchise, my guess being the Nationals. In this case, St. Paul would basically be replacing Fresno (Washington's current team) who will be demoted to the California league. 

 

That said, from the sounds of it, AAA's structure is also likely to change, either with 3 leagues (east, west, central) or just making the 2 leagues unbalanced, with all of the eastern PCL teams joining the IL, leaving only actual western teams - say El Paso and west - in the Pacific Coast League. 

    • glunn, jrod23 and Nine of twelve like this

 

It certainly doesn’t hurt. Though I think the better benefit is on the player development side. No one else in baseball is able to drive 15 min to their AAA team and check out their players in real time.

The closest I can think of is Detroit. Toledo is only about 45 minutes away. The Mudhens have a very nice stadium in downtown Toledo and have pretty good attendance.

    • glunn likes this

 

An A ball team 50 miles away, in a different media market, and a AAA team 12 miles away are a bit of a different story. The better comparisons would be Seattle/Tacoma or Atlanta/Gwinette which are about 35 miles between MLB and AAA. Of course they make it work - and frankly, the Saints already have shown it can work.

 

 

Gwinnett and Atlanta are a great example.Very nice stadium in Gwinnett.Even with guys like Acuna coming through, their attendance went up some, but it didn't even compare to that of Atlanta.I remember a game where Yoan Moncada, Giolito, and Ozzie Albies were all playing.I literally could count every person in the stands.The minors, even with prospects, doesn't guarantee a big draw, which I selfishly and genuinely enjoy.I'm sure St. Paul would still draw fantastically though, much the same as Lansing or Dayton (even though they have been Low-A).They have much of the same make up.

In the past I was skeptical of these rumors. For most indie teams, it would be a great opportunity but the Saints have a unique brand and a strong following. 

 

But I wonder if Covid has changed that tune a bit.

    • mikelink45 and jrod23 like this

 

Veek said he`s open to be a MLB team affiliate. I don`t know if they are open for a MLB team other the Twins, if that could be the case that`d be sad. I`d love to watch all our high prospects at CHS. To change to be an affiliate doesn`t mean they have to change how they do baseball there, does it?

 

And if not the Twins, imagine watching a division rival's top prospects play on the regular. We can all be amateur scouts.

 

    • jrod23 likes this

 

St. Paul would clearly slot into the current PCL, right along with Des Moines and Omaha. 

 

I'd love to see a Twins-affiliated Saints team come through Des Moines a couple times every year!