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Minor Leagues: Affiliation Questions and Answers

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This was originally posted at Knuckleballsblog.com.

Over the past month or more, I’ve alluded a few times to the fact that the Twins’ Player Development Contracts (PDC) with a number of their minor league affiliates were set to expire after the current season. In fact, all four of their PDCs with their “full-season” affiliates (A, Advanced A, AA and AAA) were expiring.

Nobody really expects their Advanced A team, the Ft. Myers Miracle, to shop around for a new affiliation, given that the team calls the Twins’ Spring Training facility its home. While there was plenty of doubt in the air about the Twins’ relationship with their AA affiliate in New Britain CT, the two parties announced a two-year extension to their working agreement recently. That leaves their AAA team in Rochester NY and their Class A team in Beloit WI still up in the air.

I’ve wondered enough about this issue that it caused me to ask a few questions of people who are more familiar than I was with how the affiliation process works. (It didn’t take much searching to find people who knew more than I did.) Between asking some questions and a little bit of online investigation, I found a few answers that I thought I would share here.

Q: Why don’t the Twins have a AAA affiliate closer to Minnesota?

A: The two AAA leagues are primarily eastern (International League) and western (Pacific Coast League) groupings with relatively few locations in the Midwest. Those that are nearby either already have strong, long time relationships with other Midwest MLB teams (Des Moines with the Cubs and Omaha with the Royals) or their PDC is not expiring (Indianapolis with the Pirates) until 2014.

Q: So why would the Twins want out of Rochester?

A: They probably don’t. Most of what’s being written about this relationship indicates that it’s Rochester that may want to explore other options. The Twins have fielded pretty bad teams there the past couple of years and attendance has dropped off significantly. However, the Red Wings are on a roll at the moment and are on the fringes of a Wild Card spot, so the question is whether it’s too little, too late, to salvage the relationship.

Q: Beloit is pretty close to the Twin Cities and they’ve had some decent teams there, so why change that affiliation?

A: The primary reasons for even considering a switch involve the facilities in Beloit. Pohlman Field may be considered quaint or even a nostalgic throwback to the days of town team or low minor league baseball by some. But to those who deal with the business side of baseball, the facilities in Beloit, from the clubhouses to the training facilities to the seating areas to the field itself, are simply not up to modern standards for full-season minor league baseball. Ten other MWL communities still have not come to extension agreements with their existing MLB partners, so it should come as no surprise that the Twins are in no hurry to ink an extension with Beloit.

Q: Why won’t teams like the Twins or their current affiliates just come out and say, “we’re interested in looking in to another affiliation”?

A: Existing PDCs do not expire until September 30 and any public comments before then could be (and most likely would be) considered “tampering” with existing contractual relationships, subjecting teams to six figure fines. Teams in existing relationships can renew those deals for an additional two or four year period at any time, but no discussions with or about potential new partners can take place before certain dates specified in MLB Rule 56.

Q: When will the Twins decide who their affiliates will be next season?

A: Any time between the end of the season (both Rochester and Beloit regular seasons end September 3) and September 11, teams can notify either the MLB Commissioner or the MiLB President (and ONLY those people… they can’t publicly state that they’ve provided such notice) that they do not wish to renew their existing agreement. If the Commissioner approves the termination notices*, he notifies the parties involved by September 15. Only once a team gets a termination approval notice from the Commissioner can it begin negotiations with other potential affiliation partners. That means everyone needs to find a new partner between September 16th and the 30th. Those teams who don’t come to an agreement on their own in that period of time will have their affiliations assigned by the Commissioner by October 7.

*Yes, Bud Selig can employ his “best interests of baseball” powers to disallow termination requests. If Bud decides, for example, that the Twins remaining affiliated with Beloit is what is in the best interests of baseball, he can turn down the Twins’ request to terminate that PDC and require that it be extended two more years. Would he do so? It would be wrong, but he’s from Wisconsin, after all, and it certainly wouldn’t be the first thing he’s done wrong as Commissioner.

Q: Why don’t the Twins just offer to help Beloit remodel their stadium or even help with the costs of building a new one?

A: I think the only way the Twins could do that would be to actually purchase the Beloit Baseball Club from the current owner (which, I believe, is the community itself). A few MLB teams do own minor league affiliates (in fact, I think the Twins own their Elizabethton rookie league team), but this is still relatively rare.

In this situation, the MLB Rule applicable to PDCs prohibits MLB teams from promising benefits beyond that of a standard PDC contract. That being the case, it would seem that MLB teams would not be permitted to offer inducements, nor could MiLB clubs ask MLB teams to contribute funding beyond what’s allowed in a standard PDC (travel costs, salaries and benefits for players, coaches, instructional staff and trainers, for example).

Q: Why don’t the Twins affiliate with the St. Paul Saints for their Class A team?

A: During the off-season, I heard some chatter suggesting the Twins should partner with the St. Paul Saints in their effort to get a new stadium built in St. Paul and then make the Saints their Class A affiliate. Not that the Twins ever expressed interest in such an arrangement publicly, but the same rule mentioned above would apparently preclude the Twins from funding the Saints’ new stadium and making St. Paul an affiliate unless the Twins actually purchased ownership of the team.

There are also minimum boundary requirements in the rules that preclude a MiLB team from playing too close to a MLB team’s home territory (which would certainly apply to St. Paul). There appears to be some wiggle room there if the MLB team agrees, which they certainly could do if they’re the affiliate of that team. But there are other obstacles. For example, MiLB teams must provide an off day for players any time they travel more than 500 miles for a road series, unless they fly the team to that location (which you just don’t do at Class A). St. Paul is so far outside the current MWL footprint that this would make scheduling extremely difficult. MLB teams get off days regularly… MiLB players get very, very few.

Finally, even if those issues could be addressed, the Twins don’t get to decide which communities get affiliated MiLB teams (the Saints are currently an Independent team, meaning they are not part of the “affiliated” MiLB system). Unless a current MiLB franchise can no longer operate financially in a manner that it can meet the terms of their PDC and other rules, existing teams appear to be guaranteed a PDC. So, for example, unless Beloit can’t meet its obligations, in terms of providing the minimum facilities required, pay for travel or other expenses that they’re responsible for, or they decide to sell their franchise, they will likely have a PDC with someone next season. Even if they’re sold, it appears the new owners would have to give 18 months notice prior to relocating.

In other words, the Saints will probably be remaining independent for the foreseeable future and Beloit will continue to have a MWL team for at least one more season and likely longer.

Q: When will we know who the Twins’ affiliates will be in 2013?

A: If the Twins are going to switch affiliations, we may not hear anything official until October. However, if we haven’t heard about a renewal of an existing PDC by September 1, it’s probably safe to assume there’s going to be a change in affiliations at that Class. If either the Twins or their existing affiliates elect to “go in to the pool” and explore new options, they will get a list of potential locations available for new affiliations on September 15. That would not preclude teams from also negotiating with their existing affiliates during the late September negotiating period, but renewals at that point are rather rare.

Q: If the Twins don’t renew their PDCs with Rochester and/or Beloit, who are they likely to affiliate with?

A: I’m admittedly biased, but the truth is Cedar Rapids would be a very good fit as the Twins’ Class A affiliate and, trust me, I’m not the only person who feels that way. CR is the closest MWL city to the Twin Cities geographically and an affiliation would benefit both organizations. CR would get an affiliation with a nearby MLB team that has a significant existing local fan base and the Twins would get an opportunity to get a stronger foothold in Eastern Iowa, where neither their TV nor radio rights holders are currently carried. If that dynamic can be changed, it could have a positive effect on future Twins media rights fees.

Cedar Rapids’ stadium is 11 years old and provides relatively modern facilities for players and field management. In addition, I was told once that Kernels players may also have access to the Perfect Game facilities across the street from the ballpark. However, CR has been affiliated with the Angels for 20 years and the Angels would like to renew, so there’s still a chance they announce a renewal before September 1. If that happens, Clinton IA (currently a Mariners affiliate) might be another option for the Twins.

AAA is a cloudier situation. Earlier in the year, the prevailing theory seemed to be that the Blue Jays (who desperately want out of Las Vegas) would affiliate with Buffalo. The Mets, who currently are in Buffalo, would partner up with Rochester and leave the Twins to find a new AAA home. That still could happen or, if Buffalo and the Mets renew, the Jays could simply move to Rochester.

Because so few International League PDCs are up for renewal (none of the IL South or West division teams’ PDCs are expiring), a renewal with Rochester is likely the only chance the Twins have of staying in that league.

The three locations I hear most often discussed for a possible Twins move are Oklahoma City, Nashville and Las Vegas. OKC is currently an Astros affiliate and Nashville is tied to the Brewers. If those teams don’t announce a renewal before September, they might be landing spots for the Twins. Otherwise, the Twins could be “assigned” to Las Vegas.

The sad fact is, with the poor AAA teams the Twins have fielded lately, they won’t have affiliates in line begging to partner up.

I think I’ve finally run out of things to say on this subject, at least until there’s something more “official” coming out of one of the affected communities. If you have any related questions, just leave them in the comment section and I’ll try to find answers.

- JC

Updated 08-08-2012 at 01:58 PM by Jim Crikket

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  1. glunn's Avatar
    This is very interesting. Thanks for laying it out so clearly. I would not mind seeing the AAA affiliate in Las Vegas. It would provide opportunities for a fun trip.
  2. IdahoPilgrim's Avatar
    Nice article! Explains it well.

    One point - I believe the team in Elizabethton is owned by the city, not by the Twins, just like Beloit is community-owned. If you call the team's phone number as shown on their official web page, you get the city parks department.

    Atlanta has pursued that model of owning their own affiliates (they own all but one, I believe) and Colorado just purchased one of their rookie affiliates and moved it to a city closer to Denver.
    Updated 08-08-2012 at 03:19 PM by IdahoPilgrim
  3. Jim Crikket's Avatar
    I'm going to admit that I based the "Twins own Elizabethton" comment on one source, Ballpark Digest. I've found them to be pretty reliable with their facts, but you never know. They have a nifty rundown on all of the affiliation agreements at this site: http://ballparkdigest.com/2009052619...ate-dance-2012

    Note, for Elizabethton, they indicate the affiliation agreement is "In perpetuity; owned by Twins"

    I would imagine it's quite possible that the parks department houses their offices and even contracts to do administrative work for the team, but that doesn't necessarily mean the city owns the team. Then again, Ballpark Digest may have that one wrong. Since I was focusing on the full-season affiliates, I didn't bother trying to find a confirmation one way or the other. Yes, I was lazy.
  4. Shane Wahl's Avatar
    Great post! That was informative and cleared up a lot for me.
  5. Shane Wahl's Avatar
    Las Vegas is a terrible place for baseball.
  6. Head First's Avatar
    Good article. Surprising how little time there is to get a contract done.
  7. Jim Crikket's Avatar
    Shanewahl, that's what I keep hearing. Any idea WHY it's considered such a terrible place for baseball? Is it the obvious... the fact that it's damn HOT all summer long there? Population-wise, it should support a team. Are the facilities bad? I guess I just haven't ever read much specific about it other than no MLB team really wants to have their AAA team there.

    Head First, I thought 2 weeks was remarkably little time, too. I can just imagine a bell going off and suddenly phones are ringing all over the place. I know internal discussions are going on behind closed doors well before September, but still... a lot of MiLB teams are run by BODs and 2 weeks isn't very long to give any Board to decide anything! Giving Bud Selig less than 2 weeks to approve termination requests isn't very long, either. I'm pretty sure Bud takes naps longer than that, at times.
  8. glunn's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Crikket
    Shanewahl, that's what I keep hearing. Any idea WHY it's considered such a terrible place for baseball? Is it the obvious... the fact that it's damn HOT all summer long there? Population-wise, it should support a team. Are the facilities bad? I guess I just haven't ever read much specific about it other than no MLB team really wants to have their AAA team there.

    Head First, I thought 2 weeks was remarkably little time, too. I can just imagine a bell going off and suddenly phones are ringing all over the place. I know internal discussions are going on behind closed doors well before September, but still... a lot of MiLB teams are run by BODs and 2 weeks isn't very long to give any Board to decide anything! Giving Bud Selig less than 2 weeks to approve termination requests isn't very long, either. I'm pretty sure Bud takes naps longer than that, at times.

    I attended a game in Las Vegas a few years ago. It was warm, but the humidity is low there. The facility is very nice and the stands were fairly packed with fans who were having a great time.

    After the game we went to an amazing buffet then spent eight hours or so at a living art gallery known as "Olympic Gardens."

    Please have some sympathy for us west coast Twins fans. A team in Las Vegas would bring us immeasurable happiness.
  9. MWLFan's Avatar
    Jim Crikket thanks for the digging on this. As someone down here in Southwestern Wisconsin my one worry is the SAL League. I just don't want the Twins to go there with the low A team. (The Eastern Division of the MWL would be better, but not by much.) I have to agree with the assestment of the Snappers facitilies, Miesville has a better stadium. I worry about the Beloit market as a viable location for A Ball. Dubuque would have been a great town with a place down on the river across from the Bluffs, but they went Minor League Hockey instead and built a wonderful little arena. Fingers crossed for Cedar Rapids here too. I don't think too highly of Clinton, but the last time I was there the Snapper starter was Glen Perkins so do you know if they have upgraded the stadium? But it would beat being in Georgia.
  10. Jim Crikket's Avatar
    I didn't include it in the post because frankly it was too long already, but I did look in to the possible SAL options for the Twins. You never know what's going on in the minds of some team owners, but I don't see much available down there. There are 8 teams with expiring PDCs. Asheville's been with the Rockies for 18 years and I didn't see any hints of dissatisfaction, though their attendance isn't great by SAL standards. Greensboro has hosted the Marlins for 10 years, gets good attendance and has been competitive... not much reason for change. Hagerstown is a Nationals affiliate and being in MD, I can't see that changing. Lakewood is tied at the hip with the Phillies (and going to NJ wouldn't exactly get the Twins affiliate closer to Ft Myers anyway). The CEO of the ownership group that owns Savannah grew up near Shea and is a Mets fan, so seems unlikely he'd make a switch.

    That leaves Hickory NC, which has been a Rangers affiliate for 4 years, Augusta GA, which the Giants have threatened to leave due to inability to get new ballpark/facilities (and why would Minn want to get in another of those situations?), and Lexington KY, which has been an Astros affiliate since the team was formed in 2001.

    Lexington might make sense for the Twins, given its proximity to Elizabethton, but they draw well and I saw no indication of any dissatisfaction with their current situation.
  11. nowheresville's Avatar
    As a Twins fan and Snappers season ticket holder, I certainly appreciate your work here as well. It certainly seems like the Twins have their foot out the door of Beloit, which is a shame considering that the number of Twins fans that have either visited, and created, since the Twins came in 2007. I now see as much, if not more, Twins gear than Snappers or even Brewers gear at most games now. The staff really has done a lot to promote the affiliation with the Twins, and despite the subpar stadium, it seems like it has been a good relationship for the past 6 years.

    I would be curious as to where the Twins might go. It doesn't seem like there are a ton of other good options. Cedar Rapids would make the most sense, if its available, but I don't see many other options. QC already kicked them out of town to get the Cardinals, I'm sure Peoria wants to keep the Cubs, the Brewers are happy in Appleton, Kane County and Burlington just swapped 2 years ago, which only leaves Clinton in the MVL West. I really like watching games in Clinton, but I'm not sure their facilities would be big step up from Beloit. That leaves the MWL east, or heading south.

    I don't see baseball leaving Beloit anytime soon, especially since the team is community owned and has been in the Black the past few years. But, much like 2006, I suspect they will end up getting the team that is without a partner when the music stops. From my understanding, that's pretty much how the Twins ended up in Beloit in the first place during the last big MWL affiliate shakeup.

    But I will continue to hope that Terry Ryan will decide to step up and keep the Twins in his hometown!
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