OMNI, late September 2018
This feels like an awkward time for an OMNI. PDC season is about 80% wrapped up, so I’m tempted to wait another week. However, it won’t be long before the rebrandings come down the pike, so I might as well do a post now and then another big one this fall.
In the last OMNI, I touched on what is probably the biggest minor league story of the fall: the announced relocation of the New Orleans Baby Cakes to Wichita, Kansas. That PCL franchise will begin play some time in the early, uh….twenties–maybe 2021. Wichita mayor Jeff Longwell is fired up about the plan, and hopes that the move happens sooner.
When announcing the news, he gave a cringe-inducing speech, stumbling through the tongue-twisting phrase, “it’s time that we shed the last vestige of the misperception that we’re a quiet little Midwestern town.” He said those words while wearing a Miami Marlins baseball cap. Apparently Longwell is unaware of the fact that the franchise’s PDC with the Marlins is expiring in 2020, and there will likely be fierce competition for the new Wichita club. This photo might look extra funny in a few years.
That’s a perfect segue into a report on how the PDC signing season has been going so far. It started out with a bang, as no fewer than four Pacific Coast League franchises changed parent clubs, plus one unexpected renewal. Let’s break it down.
The soon-to-be-renamed Syracuse Chiefs are now affiliated with the Mets, who bought them last year and had to endure a season with their property affiliated with their NL East division rival in Washington. The Mets had previously been affiliated with…
…the soon-to-be-renamed Las Vegas 51s, who landed with the Oakland A’s. This was hotly-rumored over the summer, so no big surprise there. The A’s left behind…
…the Nashville Sounds, who, in a somewhat surprising move, inked a four-year PDC with the Texas Rangers. There were rumblings of this just before the open signing period, but it’s still a shock that the Rangers ditched the San Antonio market in favor of the newer amenities in Nashville. Presumably, they balked at the stadium uncertainty in San Antonio, but that still doesn’t explain why they signed a four-year deal. This left many people surprised. Meanwhile…
…the recently-relocated Triple-A version of the San Antonio Missions signed on for two years with the Milwaukee Brewers. Technically, this was just a PDC renewal, as the Colorado Springs franchise had been affiliated with the Brewers since 2014. Also in the Lone Star State…
The Round Rock Express signed on with the Houston Astros. This has been rumored for years, and the Ryan family finally forged the bond. The team did a mild brand redesign to go along with the change, though it wasn’t a complete overhaul by any means. They darkened their blue to a hue that’s closer to that of the Astros than the Rangers. Notably, they added a a star to the center of the cowcatcher-E logo. Their new pinstriped uniforms hearken back to the days when the team identity was a Houston affiliate at the Double-A level. An alternate logo features the Texas state shape colored in with Astros-style tequila sunrise colors and the actual round rock of Round Rock in the middle. This logo touts 20 years of the Express, though we know well enough that this is a multi-level identity that stretches over two different franchises. Let’s have a look at that cool new logo.
In the process of reuniting with Round Rock, the Astros left behind…
…the Fresno Grizzlies, who signed on with the last remaining team–the Washington Nationals. The Nats had been spurned by Syracuse, though just about everyone (myself included) expected them to strike a chord with Nashville. When I did an OMNI around Labor Day, I entertained the possibility that the Rangers might be wary of the San Antonio stadium situation, but I never really considered that this might lead to Washington being stuck with a Triple-A affiliate that’s three time zones away. It’s certainly a surprise.
It’s important to note that the Fresno and San Antonio deals are for two-years, and will expire in 2020. A lot can happen in two years, but right now, the only other Triple-A team that I see with as having a high likelihood of being available in 2020 is the aforementioned New Orleans/Wichita franchise. There will likely be some competition for Wichita, and we could see a reshuffle again in two years. However, if pressed to guess, I’d say that 2020 will be a relatively quiet year at the Triple-A level. One reason is inertia, which often wins out, and is the reason why I’d say Miami is the early front-runner for Wichita. The other reason is the four-year deal that Texas has with Nashville. Now, let’s say that San Antonio does indeed build a new park in time for the 2023 season. If so, I’d expect that the Rangers would have some interest, and that might lead to a bigger reshuffle–similar to what we saw this year.
Now that I’ve been following PDC changes for a handful of cycles, I’ve developed a little bit of a sixth sense about it. At the Triple-A level, 2018 reminded me a lot of 2014, when teams like the Astros and Brewers suddenly found themselves in need of new affiliates. Then in 2016, even though there were teams that would’ve liked to change horses, there wasn’t the critical mass needed to start the shuffle. Fresno and Colorado Springs signed on with their parent clubs for two more years, and hunkered down until this year, when the will for change was there. I expect that 2020 will be more like 2016, and 2022 will be more like 2018. So, if I’m doing a way-too-early prediction for 2020, I’d say that there will likely not be any major changes at the Triple-A level. But 2022? Sure. Any and all of Wichita, Fresno, San Antonio, Nashville, Las Vegas, or other surprise teams could be in play. We’ll see.
There were some changes at the Double-A and Single-A levels, including some surprises, but I’ll save those for the next OMNI. Since there are still some moves that need to be solidified, I think it would be more coherent to save those words.
Class-A Advanced will remain static for another two years. That could portend some action in 2020, but I’m realizing how many clubs at this level are now owned by their parent clubs. In recent years, the Mariners bought the Modesto Nuts, the Brewers bought the Carolina Mudcats, the White Sox bought the Winston-Salem Dash, and the two Texan teams bought two North Carolinian teams–Down East and Fayetteville. Couple that with the Florida State League, which is basically a spring training complex league, and it’s a recipe for homeostasis. There are only a handful of teams at that level that aren’t already pinned down in some way.
As of now, there aren’t any changes at the short season levels. There may be some swaps in the Northwest League, but I’ll believe it when I see it. In the Pioneer League, the Ogden Raptors renewed with the Dodgers, despite rumors to the contrary. The Brewers, despite being saddled with the high altitude Sky Sox for four seasons, renewed with the new Colorado Springs franchise. It makes me wonder if Elmore Sports Group said to Milwaukee, “stick with us in Colorado Springs, and we’ll stick with you in San Antonio.” Who knows?
Indeed, who does know? I do know that I’ll be back in October or early November with part two of the PDC recap, plus maybe some news about Sod Poodles or Woodpeckers or Long Haulers or Punchy Pikas or Fatbacks or Throttle Jockeys or Syracuse Mets or whatever wacky new minor league identities that the world can react to. For now, I’ll just keep plugging away building this site and studying to be a greater version of the minor league geek.