Re-Remixing the Carolina and Sally Leagues

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Boy, I already thought this topic was complicated enough. It’s time to give another attempt at trying to figure out what the heck is going on with the Carolina and Sally Leagues. My thinking on a few factors has shifted in the ten days or so that have elapsed since my last attempt–shaped by a mish-mash of happenings and rumors with different levels of validity. Let’s look at those first.

Note: I’m starting with the boring fine-print. It’s for my own refresher as much as it is for justification of the choices. But if you want to get to the heart of this article, just scroll through this stuff. 

Things that seem sure or pretty darn sure

  • The Mets are putting Brooklyn in the new High-A league. I touched on this here, but the upshot is that with the Mets retaining both Binghamton and Brooklyn, some other team will have to be squeezed out of the 120. Whatever team that will be is very likely to be from one of the Single-A levels. 
  • A tweet by Pirates’ beat writer Rob Biertempfel seems to indicate that Pittsburgh will continue its affiliation with the Greensboro Grasshoppers. Since they own Bradenton at Low-A, this implies that Greensboro will be in the new High-A Carolina League.
  • On the 16th, Christopher Jones, President of the Lynchburg Hillcats, tweeted that “Lynchburg isn’t folding” and also “I think the SAL will include 3 teams in Virginia (Salem, Fredericksburg and Lynchburg).” 

Ballpark Digest stuff

Kevin Reichard at Ballpark Digest has been a reliable supplier of mostly accurate rumors for the past calendar year-plus, but he also has some cryptic ways of getting info out there. Here’s a roundup of some of the stuff that has been tweeted or mentioned in articles lately. 

  • Supposedly, the reason for the Giants having their affiliation with Augusta severed is that there is a low-A conflict with San Jose. This implies that the GreenJackets are staying in the Sally. 
  • A tweet from Ballpark Digest flat-out states that Myrtle Beach is going to remain a Cubs affiliate. If we assume (and I hesitate to do that) that the Cubs are staying in the Midwest League, that would suggest that Myrtle is going to be shifting to the Sally. 
  • He says we should look for the Columbia Fireflies to sign on with an AL Central team. By process of elimination, this could mean Kansas City if the Fireflies are at either Single-A level or Cleveland if they remain in the Sally. (I’m feeling more wariness about trying to guess the state of the Midwest League, though.) 
  • On Reichard’s “affiliate dance” live page, there are some interesting things that relate to this discussion. First off is that he has a straight-up Miami/Asheville pairing. There’s no explanation, but with no question mark, it seems like a given. Due to the Florida State League conflict, this would give Asheville a boost to the Carolina. I will also mention that Reichard seems to imply that Daytona will be staying the Reds’ affiliate. This is a bigger discussion, but it implies that if the Tortugas are staying, another FSL team will have to go. Presumably because they are the only other FSL not owned by their parent club, Reichard has Fort Myers and Port Charlotte with question marks. This is somewhat significant to our discussion, because it could mean that the Twins could be in the market for a Sally League team or that the Rays could end up with both a Sally and a Carolina League team. Of course, that same page also lists “Rays?” next to the Charleston RiverDogs.

Other stuff

Here are some rumors that I’ve heard that are fully unsubstantiated. Please take all of these with a grain of salt. In the event that there is an either/or decision, these may sway the balance a little, but I think they’re mostly speculation or outdated word-of-mouth rumor. 

  • The Charleston RiverDogs have been rumored–by both Reichard’s affiliate dance page and otherwise–to be linking up with the Rays. They’ve also been rumored to be getting a bump to the Carolina League. As noted with the Port Charlotte possibility, the two RiverDog rumors are not necessarily mutually exclusive. 
  • The Augusta GreenJackets have been rumored to be linking up with the Reds. This one somewhat contradicts Reichard’s mention of Augusta being in the Sally, and if we’re to believe that Daytona is staying with the Reds, then the only possible Augusta/Cincy pairing would be at High-A. Something isn’t right here. 

Assumption Junction

There’s an old proverb about “assume” making an “ass of u and me.” But until I hear otherwise, I will expect that these things will continue in the new system. 

  • Although the Midwest League is a huge question mark to me, I expect that it will be at 12 teams, with the Northwest at 6, new league at 6, and Carolina at 6. 
  • It seems likely (and probably guaranteed) that the White Sox, Rangers, and Red Sox will continue to have their affiliates in the Carolina and Sally Leagues. There may be some flexibility as to which team goes where, but the main point is what’s important. 
  • This is one I’ve explored before, but I think we have to operate with the expectation that the Brewers will stick with both the Mudcats and Timber Rattlers, meaning Carolina will be moved out of the Carolina. 
  • The Orioles are rumored to want to have both Aberdeen and Delmarva. There could be some shenanigans involving the Bowie and the Eastern League, but for now, this means Delmarva will be staying in the Sally. Rumors of Fredericksburg to the Sally lend credence to the idea of a northern cluster of Sally League teams and a sprawled geographic footprint that is nearly as extreme as we are used to. 

Here’s my attempt today (Nov. 20) at guessing how this will turn out, with consideration to the various rumors we’ve heard about these two leagues. It’s almost guaranteed to be incorrect, but we go: 

Carolina League (High-A)

  1. Asheville Tourists (MIA)
  2. Charleston RiverDogs (TB)
  3. Down East Wood Ducks (TEX)
  4. Greensboro Grasshoppers (PIT)
  5. Greenville Drive (BOS)
  6. Winston-Salem Dash (CHI)

South Atlantic League (Low-A)

  1. Augusta GreenJackets (x)
  2. Carolina Mudcats (MIL)
  3. Columbia Fireflies (KC)
  4. Delmarva Shorebirds (BAL)
  5. Fayetteville Woodpeckers (HOU)
  6. Fredericksburg Nationals (WAS)
  7. Hickory Crawdads (TEX)
  8. Kannapolis Cannon Ballers (CHI)
  9. Lynchburg Hillcats (CLE)
  10. Myrtle Beach Pelicans (CHC)
  11. Rome Braves (ATL)
  12. Salem Red Sox (BOS)

Potential “x” teams: CIN, COL, MIN, TB (largely depends on whether we see surprises in the Florida State League.)

Here’s a map of what the Carolina League would like in this scenario:

Seeing Charleston marooned that far south kind of drives me nuts. At least in the Carolina/Sally, though, I get the sense that MLB team desires are taking precedence over geographic efficiency. You can also squint and see how Asheville, Greenville, and Charleston could be a southwest division and the Dash, Grasshoppers, and Wood Ducks could for a northeast division. 

However, I’m tempted to say that the geographic disparity (assuming that we’re taking the Rays/RiverDogs rumor seriously) would help the case of Charleston staying at Low-A and the Charlotte Stone Crabs getting the boot. But if the Rays do something that extreme, you’d think they would want a consolation prize both Charleston and Columbia. Oh wait, Columbia is supposedly going to an AL Central team. 

Here’s a map of what the Sally League would like in this scenario:

As idiotic as it looks to have Charleston and Down East in a different league than Myrtle Beach, this isn’t as bad of a footprint as it could be, and certainly much better than the Sally we are used to. The most logical divisions would probably be four in the north, four in the central, four in the south. 

I should also mention the Atlanta Braves, who have been curiously quiet on the rumor front. You have to assume that the Atlanta Braves are interested in having an affiliate in both the Carolina and Sally League–imagine a Rome/Augusta combo. But all of those considerations can’t really be satisfied. As weird as it would be, we may see Atlanta take on an affiliate in the Midwest or the new middle-Atlantic league. 

Either that, or any number of the addled-brained rumors turn out to be false.