Word of a potential deal to move the New Britain Rock Cats franchise to Hartford only broke on Monday, but today it became official: the Rock Cats will be leaving their longtime home of New Britain following the 2015 season, and relocating to nearby Hartford for Opening Day 2016. Twins fans, bear with me, as the first part of this story primarily is of interest to my Connecticut readers (all 3 of you). Here's what Connecticut-area people need to know:
- The Rock Cats' (meaning the owners') deal with the City of New Britain expires after the end of the 2015 season, so there will be one more full season of Rock Cats baseball in New Britain. How enthusiastic the City will be about the facility, team and ownership -- well, that's to be determined.
- A brand new, 10,000 seat baseball stadium will open in April, 2016, just north of Trumbull and Main Street in a currently undeveloped/underdeveloped area. The estimated $60 million cost will be financed by the city through bonds -- not the state, and not the team's owners.
- The stadium, according to a radio interview I heard with Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra, will not be baseball-only. I'm not sure what to make of that, but I'm guessing that just means it would be suitable for other athletic events and perhaps concerts. That would make sense, as there will only be minor league baseball there 71 or so days a year.
- The future of professional baseball in New Britain is less certain. Due to territorial restrictions, another affiliated minor league team would not be able to open shop in New Britain (or so I've been told). That does not foreclose the possibility of, for example, and unaffiliated minor league team (similar to the Bridgeport Bluefish) setting up shop in the Hardware City.
- The Rock Cats' owners have been intent on leaving New Britain for over a year. The choices were either Hartford, or Springfield, Mass. It sounds like Hartford was the only option to keep affiliated baseball in the greater Hartford area. They made absolutely no attempt to negotiate with New Britain.
- This deal gives Hartford 2 affiliated minor league teams: the Hartford Wolfpack (affiliate of hockey's New York Rangers) and whatever team the Rock Cats affiliate with (more on that below). In my opinion, that's about the best a small-ish city like Hartford can do.
- The Rock Cats' owners will very likely re-brand the team. So, no more lovable Rocky.
- I'm no expert, but I don't sense any litigation arising out of this; just hurt feelings. The team's owners wanted out, found (what they believe to be) their best deal, and are taking it, after their current contract with the City of New Britain expires. In other words, I can't imagine anything holding this up.
Where does this leave the Twins? Well, on that subject I'm a lot less certain. First, let's review the known information: The Rock Cats-Twins player development contract ("PDC"), the deal that creates the affiliation, expires after the 2014 season. So, regardless of whether it's Twins prospects I'm seeing, there will be one more season of Rock Cats baseball in New Britain before the Hartford transition.
Everything I have read (this for example) suggests that PDC's are renewable every 2 years. The Twins and the Rock Cats are completing a 2 year deal, but the deal could have been for 4 or 6, or more, years. Therefore, the Rock Cats' owners will need to decide with whom they are going to affiliate for 2015 and beyond. As I wrote a couple weeks ago, I don't see any majorly attractive offers for the Rock Cats that open up this off-season. There is, however, one interesting hunch I have: The Mets' AA affiliation is currently in Binghamton, New York (about 200 miles away from Citi Field -- the Mets' home). That PDC expires following the 2016 season. I've heard more than once that Josh Solomon, the Rock Cats' owner, is a Mets fan. Hartford to Citi Field is just over 100 miles away, and there are plenty of Mets fans in this area. Mets games are on TV with any normal cable package, and game recaps are part of news coverage out here. If I'm trying to fill a 10,000 seat stadium, a Mets affiliation is more of a draw Connecticut residents than is a Twins -- or most other -- affiliation. Aside from a Yankees or Red Sox affiliation, it's probably the next best thing.
If I'm the Twins, I'm interested in maintaining the Hartford affiliation, provided nothing better arises. The Twins should care first and foremost about the facilities insofar as they impact player development (things like adequate/maintained batting cages, bullpen space, and even the playing field conditions, are paramount). I would assume this new and expensive stadium would have what any parent club would want.
Were I asked today to take my best guess as to what happens, here it is: The Twins and the Rock Cats agree to extend their PDC for 2 more years, covering the 2015 and 2016 seasons. After that, the Rock Cats enter into a longer-term agreement with the Mets. Again, all speculation.
It was a busy news day here. Feel free to comment with any questions, or to share any other information you've heard. Also, follow me on Twitter for more information as it develops.