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  • The Twins-Rock Cats Affiliation

    Close to two years ago, the Minnesota Twins and the New Britain Rock Cats extended their Player Development Contract. That agreement is the "affiliation" between New Britain and the Twins, whereby the Twins send players and staff (and provide other things we don't really know about) to New Britain. The agreement could have been for varying lengths of time, with two seasons being the minimum. For whatever reasons, the parties settled on the minimum two years. Now, here we are again, in basically the same position, wondering whether the Twins and the Rock Cats will again choose to extend their (seemingly) successful business partnership.

    For the Rock Cats, I could see them potentially wanting to make a move at some point. There's a really good resource -- here -- for tracking player development contracts across all levels of the minor leagues. A quick look tells me that in the Eastern League (where New Britain plays), there are several player development contracts set to expire after this season: Cleveland, Baltimore, Detroit, San Francisco and Minnesota. The first question: do any of those franchises offer anything to New Britain that the Twins couldn't? Arguably Baltimore is somewhat close geographically, but I think they have a good thing going in Bowie, MD. The rest of the organizations are pretty much just as far away from the parent club as Minnesota is from central Connecticut.




    As I mentioned a couple years ago, I think the story might be different if the Yankees, Red Sox or Mets had an opening, but that isn't the case right now. The Binghamton Mets (not surprisingly, affiliated with the New York Mets) are locked up through 2016. The Portland Sea Dogs (Red Sox AA affiliate who happen to play in basically a replica of Fenway) are signed through 2018. And the Yankees for all intents and purposes own the Trenton Thunder (signed through 2022). In short, I'm not sure a substantially better partner exists for New Britain than the known entity they've been dealing with for a long time.

    How about for the Twins? Why the hell do they want to stay in central Connecticut? Quite frankly, unless they want to relocate their AA team to a southern city (potential 2014 openings include Chattanooga, Huntsville, Jacksonville, Arkansas, San Antonio, and more), they're probably just as well off in New Britain. It's fair to wonder if the organization sees any benefit to having High-A and Double-A in the same state, namely, Florida. It's not as if Jacksonville and Ft. Myers are neighbors -- it's about a 5 hour drive -- but there could be something to having half of the full-season teams within a reasonable drive.

    Even if the relationship is extended (and I suspect it will be), I do think the Twins could do a better job at a few things. First, I'd like to see them occasionally send a legitimate player here on a rehab assignment. (I'm not talking about Jason Marquis or Matt Guerrier). You'd be shocked at what it does for ticket sales and buzz, especially early in the season when drawing a big crowd can be tough. Naturally, most guys on rehab assignments go to Rochester, but once a season, just a few games in New Britain by a Willingham/Kubel/Arcia/Mauer would be great.

    Second, I'd like to see the Twins send a former player to New Britain every now and then for an appearance. The Rochester Red Wings do this, and I think it's a great idea. (Truth be told, I don't know who finances this -- the parent club or the affiliate -- but my point is the same). For example, a guy like Doug Mientkiewicz, a Rock Cats and Red Sox alum, could come for an evening (forget his day job for a minute). In short, I think there are opportunities for better cross-promotion that could be mutually beneficial.

    But the Twins do a great job of keeping their top prospects in New Britain for a relatively long time. Aaron Hicks, Oswaldo Arcia, Miguel Sano, Eddie Rosario, Trevor May, Alex Meyer all come to mind. I'd even add Kennys Vargas, who is on pace for close to 30 home runs this season. And guess what -- Sano, Rosario (both for the second time), and soon-to-be-AA-player and consensus #1 prospect Byron Buxton, will all be Rock Cats players in the near future. Plus, the pipeline is rich -- guys like Jose Berrios, Kohl Stewart, Niko Goodrum, etc., are on the way up. If the Rock Cats choose to terminate their relationship with the Twins, it won't be because of minor league talent.

    In the end, I envision New Britain and the Twins agreeing to extend their agreement. It makes sense, I don't see other, better alternatives, and the parties seem to have a good working relationship.

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    Comments 11 Comments
    1. diehardtwinsfan's Avatar
      diehardtwinsfan -
      Nice read. I'd think it makes more sense to have a team near some of their other affiliates, but the cold weather climate is something they have to deal with in MN, so having some teams in similar climates also makes sense.
    1. 70charger's Avatar
      70charger -
      Coming from a professed non-expert, I have heard that the Pacific Coast League in AAA is a hitters' league, and that you have to look at hitters' stats with a big grain of salt.

      Is there anything similar going on with the Southern League? Are there any advantages in being affiliated with a particular league in AA aside from getting used to the weather?
    1. Twins Fan From Afar's Avatar
      Twins Fan From Afar -
      Thanks for the comments. That's a really good question, and I don't know the answer.
      But you're right about the PCL -- you to take their stats into account. I've never heard that said about the Eastern League, for example. That seems to play pretty fair.
    1. Thrylos's Avatar
      Thrylos -
      The AAA agreement is up again for renewal this off-season, so changes might happen in more places than New Britain. The Miracle agreement is even up for renewal, but nothing is happening there. (The Kernels' affiliation is good until 2016 and the Twins own their 3 rookie league teams.)

      As far as PCL goes (in which about 3/4 of the agreements expire), the Pacific and Mountain ballparks (Pacific Conference, like the former Twins' affiliates' Portland and SLC) inflate statistics, but the league has teams in the South and Midwest (American Conference,) whose ball parks play average.

      I think that there are advantages of playing in warmer weather because teams actually play in April instead of having rain-outs and snow-outs and having to make them up with 7 inning double headers. The first minor league affiliate of the Twins' Franchise (the Lookouts, AA SL) is up for grabs and so are the Sounds, so a move to Tennessee from the Northeast might be intriguing. (Not that I'd personally like it.)

      I like what Atlanta and St. Louis have done (they own all of their affiliates.) It requires some investment, but I think that it pays major dividends in the long term for a lot of reasons. I'd love it if the Twins did the same, starting with the Miracle.
    1. twinsfan34's Avatar
      twinsfan34 -
      As Thrylos said...or hinted at...heat and elevation help the ball fly farther so ballparks in elevated warmer areas favor hitters.

      A quick rundown...

      PCL:
      http://www.baseball-reference.com/mi...gi?id=1b5c335f
      5 r/pg, .272 avg, .91 hr/g

      EL:
      http://www.baseball-reference.com/mi...gi?id=bc539148
      4.41 r/pg, .258 avg, .68 hr/g

      CAL:
      http://www.baseball-reference.com/mi...gi?id=2a5fd2d9
      4.91 r/gp, .261 avg, .81 hr/g

      The CAL league is usually much higher, PCL and EL are about right.

      I'd like to see the Twins move their affiliates to warmer weather so they don't lose so many early spring games to weather conditions. I think scouts/teams are aware of how parks favor pitchers vs hitters - so not a problem if the Twins had teams that all played in Arizona for instance.
    1. jokin's Avatar
      jokin -
      Quote Originally Posted by Thrylos View Post
      The AAA agreement is up again for renewal this off-season, so changes might happen in more places than New Britain. The Miracle agreement is even up for renewal, but nothing is happening there. (The Kernels' affiliation is good until 2016 and the Twins own their 3 rookie league teams.)

      As far as PCL goes (in which about 3/4 of the agreements expire).......


      I like what Atlanta and St. Louis have done (they own all of their affiliates.) It requires some investment, but I think that it pays major dividends in the long term for a lot of reasons. I'd love it if the Twins did the same, starting with the Miracle.
      I don't know if you know of PCL teams specifically, but I seem to remember that the Las Vegas AAA situation was in shambles, and the Mets ended up affiliating and/or owning the franchise. Given the proximity to Rochester, wouldn't it behoove both clubs to looking into an affiliate swap? And then, maybe the Twins might consider buying the Las Vegas club and strengthening the existing franchise and its infrastructure (good marketing opportunities with the hoteliers and airlines between Twinsland and Vegas) or consider relocation to the Central Time Zone?
    1. SD Buhr's Avatar
      SD Buhr -
      Quote Originally Posted by Thrylos View Post
      I like what Atlanta and St. Louis have done (they own all of their affiliates.) It requires some investment, but I think that it pays major dividends in the long term for a lot of reasons. I'd love it if the Twins did the same, starting with the Miracle.
      I'm not sure I agree that ownership of all affiliates pays major dividends. And I'm pretty sure the Cardinals don't own the Peoria MWL affiliate (they just moved there from QC for the 2013 season and I don't recall reading that they bought the team).

      I do agree that there are certain circumstances which would make it advantageous to own certain level affiliates.

      Generally speaking, running a minor league team is a giant pain in the butt and in many, if not most, cases you're lucky just to break even financially. Why "own" when you can "rent" and let someone else take all the financial risk?

      On the other hand, if you are an organization that is always finding yourself affiliated with whatever the least-preferred team is at a particular level (Vegas at AAA, Beloit at low-A, etc.) and, as a result, your players are not housed/fed adequately or are put at risk by sub-standard playing fields or lack of appropriate training facilities, then absolutely you might consider owning at that level.

      Major and minor league teams that have natural "geographic fits" scramble to match up. But the Twins don't have that luxury at any level except low-A. (Des Moines or Omaha would be possibile at AAA, but those teams aren't breaking away from the Cubs and Royals any time soon).

      If New Britain decides to go another direction and the Twins end up with a really bad AA affiliate situation, that might put them in a place where trying to buy a AA team would make sense. But not many teams go on the market and many that do would require significant capital investments to bring facilities up to appropriate standards.

      I suspect that the next time the master contract is renewed between MLB and MiLB, a lot of the clauses that allowed MiLB teams to be "grandfathered" in and thus avoid having to bring all facilities up to "new" stadium standards could be eliminated. If that's the case, some of the minor league teams that have been skating by will face the choice of building new facilities or selling their franchise.

      I think that's when you may see more MLB teams (including, possibly, the Twins) take advantage of the situation to buy (and perhaps relocate) more minor league affiliates.
    1. SD Buhr's Avatar
      SD Buhr -
      Quote Originally Posted by jokin View Post
      I don't know if you know of PCL teams specifically, but I seem to remember that the Las Vegas AAA situation was in shambles, and the Mets ended up affiliating and/or owning the franchise. Given the proximity to Rochester, wouldn't it behoove both clubs to looking into an affiliate swap? And then, maybe the Twins might consider buying the Las Vegas club and strengthening the existing franchise and its infrastructure (good marketing opportunities with the hoteliers and airlines between Twinsland and Vegas) or consider relocation to the Central Time Zone?
      I don't think the Mets bought any ownership stake in the 51s out in Vegas. My recollection is that they would have loved to get in to Rochester 2 years ago, but Rochester considered the Twins renewal the lesser of 2 evils at the time. The Mets ownership was in a shambles and their minor league system not ranked very high. The Twins at least had talent coming up.

      (Of course, Vegas has one of the best teams in the PCL now, so that shows how much stock you should put in that sort of thing.)

      I could see Rochester considering a change, but they also know that Sano, Buxton and friends are likely to spend at least a little time in Rochester over the next 2 years.

      If the Twins end up looking elsewhere for a AAA home, Nashville is, I believe, building a new ballpark (currently a Brewers affiliate) and I think I read that even Vegas is putting together plans for a new ballpark.

      If you really wanted to play "what if," I think the Twins (or pretty much any other team with AA and AAA affiliations expiring this year) would love to sign up with Nashville for AAA and pair that with one of several nearby Southern League AA affiliations opening up (Chattanooga, HUntsville, Mobile, Kodak TN).

      Of course, the Brewers already have the Nashville - Huntsville combo, so they likely have the advantage of incumbancy going for them.
    1. jokin's Avatar
      jokin -
      Quote Originally Posted by SD Buhr View Post
      I don't think the Mets bought any ownership stake in the 51s out in Vegas. My recollection is that they would have loved to get in to Rochester 2 years ago, but Rochester considered the Twins renewal the lesser of 2 evils at the time. The Mets ownership was in a shambles and their minor league system not ranked very high. The Twins at least had talent coming up.

      (Of course, Vegas has one of the best teams in the PCL now, so that shows how much stock you should put in that sort of thing.)

      I could see Rochester considering a change, but they also know that Sano, Buxton and friends are likely to spend at least a little time in Rochester over the next 2 years.

      If the Twins end up looking elsewhere for a AAA home, Nashville is, I believe, building a new ballpark (currently a Brewers affiliate) and I think I read that even Vegas is putting together plans for a new ballpark.

      If you really wanted to play "what if," I think the Twins (or pretty much any other team with AA and AAA affiliations expiring this year) would love to sign up with Nashville for AAA and pair that with one of several nearby Southern League AA affiliations opening up (Chattanooga, HUntsville, Mobile, Kodak TN).

      Of course, the Brewers already have the Nashville - Huntsville combo, so they likely have the advantage of incumbancy going for them.
      Didn't the Twins have an affiliation with Chattanooga at one point? Nashville/Chatanooga sounds ideal (and throw E-Town in for scouting trip convenience).
    1. SD Buhr's Avatar
      SD Buhr -
      Quote Originally Posted by jokin View Post
      Didn't the Twins have an affiliation with Chattanooga at one point? Nashville/Chatanooga sounds ideal (and throw E-Town in for scouting trip convenience).
      I don't remember the Twins ever being in Chattanooga (but I don't pretend to remember all their affiliations, either). I think they did have a short AA affiliation with Nashville, though, before Nashville was promoted up to AAA status.
    1. jokin's Avatar
      jokin -
      Quote Originally Posted by SD Buhr View Post
      I don't remember the Twins ever being in Chattanooga (but I don't pretend to remember all their affiliations, either). I think they did have a short AA affiliation with Nashville, though, before Nashville was promoted up to AAA status.
      Googling the Lookouts, I see they were Senator affiliates from 1932-59. That probably doesn't help the current situation much, but given the previous Twins history in Nashville, I still like the idea of the Twins actively pursuing some sort of Tennessee pairing. Or getting in with the Las Vegas club (new stadium sounds interesting) and maybe considering the Jacksonville, FL franchise for AA in the Southern Lg.?
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