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Even In The Future, Moving A Twins Minor League Team To St. Paul Will Face Hurdles

Attached Image: St. Paul Ballpark.jpg Charley Walters of the Pioneer Press posted a column (click here) with a number of quotes from Twins president Dave St. Peter concerning the possibility of the Twins locating a minor league affiliate in St. Paul, now that the city has funding assured to move forward with building their new stadium. The stadium is being built to Class A standards (which basically deal with things like clubhouse and training facilities and a certain minimum seating capacity).

Here are St. Peter's quotes and some additional information:

"I would certainly never say never to that... But I certainly don't anticipate that being reality over the short term... Certainly in the next two to four years, I think it would be very unlikely that that would happen."

This makes sense because the stadium won't be ready until 2015 and the Twins will be entering in to a new player development contract (PDC) with another Midwest League team next week which will have either a 2-year term or a 4-year term. Since the Twins likely aren't renewing with Beloit, it's most likely going to be a 4-year term. It would be unusual for a first agreement with a new city to be just two years; those affiliates are not going to want to have to go through the process of finding a new partner again just two years down the road.

"The reality is that a lot of things would need to happen for that even to be considered."

St. Peter goes on to state that the biggest factor would be the territorial rights that the Twins own. No affiliated minor league team can set up shop within a certain distance of the Twins' territorial rights without the Twins' permission and St. Paul is definitely inside the restricted territory. I'm really not so sure that's the biggest factor, however. The Twins could give approval with the condition that the minor league team remaining affiliated with the Twins. This is the deal Dayton has with the Reds, from what I've read. That's why, even though Dayton's PDC with the Reds has not yet renewed this year, there's no chance Dayton could sign with another MLB team even if they wanted to.

It seems to me that the bigger issue for a possible St. Paul affiliate is that neither the Twins, nor the Saints, nor anyone else can just say, "we're going to do this," and make it happen. Existing affiliated minor league teams are assured affiliations under MLB rules and nobody can just tell the Midwest League they're going to put a team in St. Paul. There are really just a couple scenarios that could result in a Twins MWL affiliate in St. Paul. (And forget about a AA or AAA team. There isn't a AA league anywhere near the Midwest and even the new stadium doesn't meet AAA minimum standards, which require a 10,000 capacity stadium, at a minimum).

For a NEW team to be awarded to St. Paul, the MWL would have to petition baseball to be allowed to expand and it would have to be by two teams to remain an even number. Since every MLB team already has a full season Class A team, expansion won't happen.

Someone could buy an existing MWL franchise or at least convince owners of a current MWL franchise to relocate to St. Paul. They would have to give 18 months notice of intent to relocate. But the real problem is finding a franchise willing to relocate. The MWL has a lot of newer stadiums and teams are generally doing OK financially where they are. There are a few older ballparks that could certainly stand to be replaced, but those teams are pretty much all community-owned.

The teams in Beloit, Clinton and Burlington, for example, aren't going to relocate or sell out because, even if attendance isn't huge, they're at least breaking even financially. Peoria, if they did decide to sell or be relocated, would almost certainly move to another central Illinois community. (There are a number of Frontier League team owners that would probably welcome the opportunity to become affiliated minor league team owners.) There really don't seem to be franchise options available for a possible move north.

Finally, even if these obstacles were overcome, the MWL itself would have to approve a St. Paul location. Could that happen? Yes, but it's far from certain. The league rejected an ownership group that wanted to place a team in Marion, IL (the southern tip of IL) back in 2005-06. Marion was far enough outside the league's current footprint that the increased travel costs for other MWL teams would be significant (and those costs are paid by the minor league team, not the MLB affiliate).

The league has subsequently admitted Bowling Green KY, but it wasn't a slam dunk. BG was essentially a "transfer" from the South Atlantic League so an affiliated minor league team already was located there. Even then, it was resisted by some members of the league. Scheduling also becomes a problem because players must be given off-days any time they have to travel by bus more than 500 miles and about half the MWL locations would exceed that distance from St. Paul.

In the end, if I were the Twins, I'd certainly like the idea of putting an affiliate in St. Paul so I'd be saying the same things St. Peter is. But when he says, "...a lot of things would need to happen for that even to be considered," he ain't lyin' because it's not a decision the Twins can unilaterally make and almost all of the parties that would have to give approval have strong incentives not to.


Jim Crikket writes at Knuckleballsblog.com.

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