Minor Leagues: Affiliation Questions and Answers

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

2 thoughts on “Minor Leagues: Affiliation Questions and Answers

  1. I believe that the Twins and Rochester are interested in re-upping with each other, but that might just be a rumor that I heard.

  2. Pretty much everything is just a rumor, right now. The people who actually “know” aren’t allowed to say much.

    I’ve heard that the Wings and Twins have some mutual interst, too, J-Dog. I think it’s in their respective bests interests to stick it out another 2 years anyway. The Wings’ beat writer, Jim Mandelaro, has certainly been critical of the Twins and many of his readers apparently are ready to move on to another affiliation. But the grass isn’t necessarily always greener elsewhere. The Mets have been kicked out of several AAA cities in the past decade or two, so obviously there would be some risk to Rochester in making a switch.