Jacksonville, Richmond, and “Team X”
Within my very narrow and somewhat pathetic realm of expertise, I feel that this upcoming PBA shakeup is sort of like my Olympics–I’ve been training for this moment for many years. I’ve had a habit of running through minor league realignment schemes long before Minor League Geek was launched. It’s the kind of thing where I’ll have a few nights per year where I lay head on pillow, but am unable to sleep because there’s some slider puzzle of minor league teams in my head and the only way to satisfy it is to get up and put the latest thought into a spreadsheet. One of my favorite games is the MLB expansion simulation. What would the minors look like if Montréal and Monterrey get MLB teams? What about Portland and Nashville? Las Vegas and Charlotte?
In any simulation, one notion that has regularly cropped up is the promotion of two Double-A teams–Jacksonville and Richmond–to Triple-A. There are many reasons for these two, including: they are in larger markets for Double-A, both have previously hosted Triple-A, they are both geographic outliers within their leagues, and both potentially have natural parent clubs in Miami and Washington/Baltimore. Indeed, they would be good Triple-A locales, even if Richmond would absolutely require a new ballpark. I recently realized that, by and large, I’ve overlooked the potential of Jacksonville and Richmond at Triple-A to help make this puzzle fit together. While I don’t think either team will be moved in the new PBA, this is at least a chance to explore the idea.
What are the immediate benefits of moving Jacksonville to Triple-A? At that level, there wouldn’t be much. Miami would get a great Triple-A option, though it would be at the expense of their Double-A club. (Being able to pick a different Southern League team would be a nice consolation, though.) The real benefits lie at the lower levels, where one of four franchises could benefit from Jacksonville vacating the Southern League.
One is Bowling Green, whom the Reds had hand-picked to be their geographically-optimal Double-A affiliate. There’s no room for them at Double-A if, as expected, two Triple-A teams go to the Texas League and displace two contracted/demoted Southern League teams. But if Jacksonville leaves, the Hot Rods can drive right in. That creates problems in the Midwest League, but let’s not go there right now.
If the Bowling Green plan doesn’t work, it may provide an opportunity for the Chattanooga Lookouts to remain in the Southern League. I pick Chattanooga over the Jackson Generals because I’ve had Jackson on the MLG Endangered Teams list for years, and they are almost certain to go. Chattanooga, despite its reported facility limitations, is a team that nobody really wants to see lose affiliated ball. Moving to the South Atlantic League could be an option, but staying in the Southern League would be nice if Bowling Green doesn’t get in.
Another potential beneficiary is New Orleans. When the the announcement came down that the Baby Cakes were leaving Louisiana for Kansas, the secondary news was that a Southern League team would slide into the Big Easy. That plan was scuttled within the midst of this new PBA/Covid cauldron of chaos. But if Jacksonville left the Southern League alongside Jackson and Chattanooga, New Orleans would have a place and it wouldn’t disrupt the notion of moving two Triple-A clubs to the Texas League. Geographically speaking, the Southern League is the best spot for New Orleans–at least until they build a new Triple-A caliber ballpark.
I’ll throw this in for kicks, even though it makes no sense whatsoever–the Daytona Tortugas could replace Jacksonville in Double-A. The only benefit, other than giving MLB a way to satiate Daytona Beach, would be better Sunshine State affiliation options for the Marlins and/or Rays. Imagine if Miami were to have Jupiter, Daytona, and Jacksonville in their lineup. Grapefruit juice for everyone.
So. How would Jacksonville fit into Triple-A? The International League is the only option, but we’re not going to see fifteen teams in that league. It takes a little finagling, as these things do. Without thinking too far outside the box, here’s the best I can come up with:
Pacific Coast League
New central league
The current 14
This setup is very close to the unsatisfying scenario I was left with at the end of this piece, but with Jacksonville taking the place of New Orleans as well as Nashville being pushed to the International League. There are some glaring flaws to both: the PCL is only at six teams, Albuquerque and El Paso are separated, etc., but this new Jacksonville scenario goes even a little further–bloating the IL and separating the two Tennessee cities. Perhaps worst of all is that it would be a three-team-in, three-team-out situation that wouldn’t lend itself to any flexibility. Looking at those league lists above, the logical move would be to add Nashville to the central and El Paso to the PCL. And if the IL isn’t going to be at fifteen teams, and the PCL isn’t going to be at seven teams, we need to talk about Team X.
Team X is not a real team–it’s the shadow of a Triple-A conundrum. Team X is the necessary piece to keep the Pacific Coast League from collapsing to a six-team sprawl that separates next-door neighbors. Team X helps to stabilize the new central league. Team X prevents the International League applecart from being disturbed. Team X could be Jacksonville, but as we see above, the benefits to the lower levels that come from the Jumbo Shrimp jumping up have consequences at Triple-A.
Team X could certainly be New Orleans–that’s where the rumors have been thus far–but bringing the Baby Cakes back to Triple-A would almost necessitate El Paso’s demotion to the Texas League and wouldn’t help the divisional alignment in the new central league. Or Team X could be Fresno. I still think that keeping the Grizzlies at Triple-A and/or doing some sort of cool placeholder situation would go a long way toward maintaining stability in the system.
Now, let’s at least entertain the idea of the Richmond being Team X. It’s a Triple-A caliber city that fits the International League map better than that of the Eastern League. Sure, it hasn’t built a new ballpark this century. But maybe Richmond could sneak into Triple-A on five-year PDC and put a park together. Who knows? I’m not going to justify Richmond’s worthiness–I’m going to look at the overall picture.
Adding both Richmond and Jacksonville to the International League would swell the circuit to 16 teams. Unlike the “just Jacksonville” scenario above, Nashville would be able to stay with Memphis and the rest of their Central Time Zone brethren. Having 16 clubs in the IL means that there are fourteen left to split between the PCL and the new central league. Unfortunately, the PCL would still be a six-team league, assuming that Fresno is demoted. For the central, that gives us a pool of El Paso, Round Rock, San Antonio, Sugar Land, OKC, Wichita, Omaha, Iowa, St. Paul, Memphis, and Nashville. Three teams don’t make the cut. Maybe St. Paul stays in indy ball after all? I’ll save that thought for another day, but for now, let’s assume that two of the teams will be added to the Texas League, and see what Double-A would look like.
Southern League Team X
Eastern League Team X
Eastern League Team X
Eastern League Team X
I’ll explain some of the placeholders. The two “AAA-to-TL” teams would likely be Wichita and San Antonio, but maybe El Paso or Round Rock could be in the mix. Southern League Team X could be Bowling Green, Chattanooga, or New Orleans. In the Eastern League, Team X could be the Somerset Patriots, Trenton Thunder, or Portland Sea Dogs. I cover it here in more detail, but the new change is that all three of these teams could be in the Eastern League. The space vacated by Richmond could also open the door for a team from a lower level (say, Wilmington or Fredericksburg or Hudson Valley) if the lower-level slider puzzle justifies it.
In reality, if Richmond leaves the Eastern League, the Flying Squirrels gliding down to the lower levels is much more likely than them joining Triple-A. And the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp? I fully expect them to stay in their Southern League shallows. But reality is still at least a couple of weeks away, so I’m happy to let fly with these wild thoughts.
Does MLB have a Team X up their sleeve? Let’s hope so. The clock is ticking.