UPDATED September 13, 2010: There have been no changes at all — with only Erie (Detroit) and Huntsville (Milwaukee) remaining unsigned. It’s unlikely that the two clubs will swap affiliations, so it appears we will go into 2011 with the same Double-A affiliation lineup as we ended 2010.
With almost 2/3 of the 2010 season behind us, I guess it’s as good a time as any to start working on the Big Open Question for the Richmond Flying Squirrels… who will they be affiliated with in 2011?
The Squirrels are currently working under the affiliation agreement signed with the San Francisco Giants when the Squirrels were in Norwich, CT as the Connecticut Defenders. That agreement expires at the end of the season.
Sidebar: since Minor League Baseball and Major League Baseball reworked their overall agreement in 1990, affiliation agreements are all for an even number of years, ending in an even-numbered year. Thus, in theory, all agreements could expire this year, but 15 organizations either own their double-A affiliates, or have already extended them to 2012 or 2014.
Right now, the only organization that can talk to the Squirrels is the Giants. They can renew the agreement at any time through early September.
If either side wants to look around, they notify both Major and Minor League Baseball right after the end of the season (Labor Day weekend). That notification opens a 2-week window (the second half of September) in which either side can sign a new affiliation agreement. If, at the end of that window, there are teams and organizations who haven’t voluntarily signed their own affiliation agreements, one will be provided to them by MLB and MiLB. That kind of shotgun marriage tends to be short (2 years) and painful. Let’s hope it doesn’t happen here.
As noted above, there are 15 double-A teams that (currently) aren’t signed with their MLB organizations past the end of this season.
Let’s start by looking at the three most likely teams who’ll be supplying players to the Squirrels in 2011:
San Francisco Giants (incumbent) – I don’t see the Squirrels signing with the Giants before the September affiliation window. I’m sure they’d like to see who’s out there. That said, the Giants like the Eastern League (they’ve been in the league with the Connecticut-Richmond group since 2003). However, you have to figure that if the Giants can get back to the Texas League (there are three teams that may open up there – Arkansas, San Antonio, and Tulsa), they’d take a look. The Giants’ triple-A team is in Fresno, the top single-A team is in San Jose, and it must cost a lot to shuffle players coast-to-coast. Even if it’s just one time zone closer, getting back into the Texas League (which the Giants were pushed out of after their Shreveport affiliate was bought out from under them by the Texas Rangers and moved to Frisco) would save the Giants considerable money. In the end, unless the Squirrels can get one of the other two “most likely” affiliations, the Giants will come back.
Washington Nationals (currently in EL Harrisburg) – The Nationals, and their predecessors in Montreal, have been in Harrisburg since 1991. That said, Minor League Baseball is moving toward a geographically-tighter, marketing-driven, affiliation model. That makes Richmond very attractive to the Nationals, and vice-versa. The Nats would benefit by better marketing in Richmond and the rest of Central Virginia, as well as increasing the proximity between their top single-A club (Potomac [Woodbridge, VA]) and their double-A club. The Squirrels would benefit simply by noting that today’s Squirrels could be in Washington tomorrow, giving Richmond’s fans a greater connection to the team, helping ticket sales (not that they need much help right now, but…). I remain convinced that this is the most-likely scenario for 2011 and a long time beyond. I am, however, backing off my prediction that this affiliation would lead to a name change. The Squirrels have done a terrific job making their current name viable – it would actually be counter-productive at this point to switch to “Richmond Nationals”.
Baltimore Orioles (currently in EL Bowie) – The Orioles have had their double-A club in Maryland since 1989, and in Bowie since the team started in 1993. And the group that owns Bowie also owns the O’s triple-A club in Norfolk. That said, it’s not out of the question that Baltimore and Richmond will, at least, talk to each other. It’d be odd to have Richmond and Norfolk in the same organization, after all those years of R-Braves vs. Tides rivalry, but you can’t rule this out. It would probably take San Francisco finding a berth in the Texas League and Washington re-upping with Harrisburg for this to happen, but it’s plausible. EDIT: Never mind… Baltimore and Bowie will be together until 2014 under an agreement signed 8/12/10.
It’s fairly certain that the Squirrels will be affiliated with one of those three two organizations next season. However… in the worst-case scenario (San Francisco goes to the Texas League, Washington and Baltimore stand pat), any of these twelve organizations under the cut could wind up here next season.
EDIT: Information on affiliation expirations courtesy http://www.minorleaguesource.com. I’m updating under the cut line as new contracts are signed — I’ll only write a new post if one of the three teams above sign with anyone.
- Detroit Tigers (currently in EL Erie) – Unlikely, due to geography. All of the MLB organizations closer to Erie are signed with their double-A clubs beyond 2010, so it makes sense for Erie and Detroit to re-up.
- Minnesota Twins (currently in EL New Britain) – Unlikely. New Britain would have to push the Twins out (which, given the poor quality of this year’s team and a long stretch of mediocrity, isn’t completely crazy), and Richmond would have to wind up without a willing partner. EDIT: New Britain and Minnesota have extended to 2012 (as of 7/8/10).
- Cincinnati Reds (currently in the Southern League at Carolina [Zebulon, NC], last in the EL in 1987) – Cincinnati seems to like the Southern League, and Carolina is about as close to Cincinnati as an available double-A club gets.
- Los Angeles Dodgers (currently in SL Chattanooga, last in the EL in 1976) – For the same reason San Francisco might like to leave, Los Angeles is unlikely to come back to the EL. However, given the chaos in the Dodgers’ organization, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them in a shotgun partnership somewhere in 2011. I would be surprised if it were here. Surprise… the Dodgers reupped with Chattanooga on August 6.
- Milwaukee Brewers (currently in SL Huntsville, last in the EL in 1980) – The Brewers would go back to the Texas League if they could (they’d been in El Paso for almost 20 years before shifting to Huntsville). They’ve never shown signs of interest in coming back to the EL.
- Florida Marlins (currently in SL Jacksonville, last in the EL in 2002) – Not happening. The Marlins have their triple-A (New Orleans) and double-A franchises in semi-tropical areas for a reason. It’s probably just a formality for Florida to re-up with Jax.
- Arizona Diamondbacks (currently in SL Mobile, never in the EL) – The Diamondbacks are very unlikely to come to the EL. They’d have to lose out in a shuffle and be forced into a shotgun partnership.
- Tampa Bay Rays (currently in SL Montgomery, never in the EL) – Actually, Tampa Bay has never affiliated with any double-A club other than Orlando/Montgomery (Orlando moved to Montgomery in 2004) since they were hatched. However, Tampa Bay’s triple-A club is in Durham. So if something went awry and they were shoved out of Montgomery, they might look here.
- Seattle Mariners (currently in SL West Tenn [Sevierville, TN], last in EL in 2000) – The Mariners seem to prefer the Southern League (12 of the last 20 seasons there). They spent just 2 years in the EL and aren’t likely to come back willingly.
- Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, California, United States, Planet Earth (currently in Texas League with Arkansas [Little Rock], last in EL in 2000). Only if one of the other West Coast teams swipes Arkansas.
- San Diego Padres (currently in TL San Antonio, never in EL) – Only if they get pushed out of San Antonio.
- Colorado Rockies (currently in TL Tulsa, last in EL in 1998) – Only if they get pushed out of Tulsa. EDIT: they have extended their agreement through 2014, as of 7/19/10.