The Case for Placeholders
This is the first installment in what I’m calling the “Last Month Mini” series. We are now in September and the PBA expires at the end of the month. I’d like to do a bunch of mini articles that center around an idea or concept that relates to the new state of minor league baseball.
For this Mini, I want to talk about an idea I had that had its origin in the simultaneous convergence of three phenomena that were swirling around in my mind. The first was outlined in my most recent PBA article “Top Levels and Unexpected Vulnerability.” “Top Levels” detailed, among other things, the geographic crunch that could result from the Fresno Grizzlies being demoted from the Pacific Coast League to the California League. I outlined one possible but less-than-ideal solution. Read the article if you haven’t, but the gist is that the PCL will have an odd number of teams unless El Paso and Albuquerque are split up and if another team (like New Orleans) is added to the new central Triple-A league. If Fresno were kept at Triple-A for now, it would maintain stability in the PCL, but would cause an issue in the California League with Lancaster out the door.
Another influential factor was the DIA team page that I made for the Danville 97s. The 97s were a pure Placeholder Team, created to serve a temporary purpose while the Carolina League charted its long-term future. This kind of thing has happened here and there throughout minor league history.
The third phenomenon came about as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and the cancellation of the 2020 MiLB season. This summer, we saw various examples of what I call “Covid-ball.” Whether it was Texas League and PCL clubs temporarily joining the Texas Collegiate League or the Lansing Lugnuts and their brilliant Lemonade League idea, the concept of multiple teams operating out of one location is in vogue.
Maybe you’ve guessed my idea by now–why not add a placeholder team to the mix? It might seem a little ridiculous to add another expansion team when so many other teams are fighting to stay alive, but as we well know, it’s more complicated than a simple team in/team out binary. Let’s examine.
The first thing I thought of was adding a second team to Salt Lake. It’s a large and vital market, but more importantly, it balances out the Triple-A geography beautifully. Check out this map of Triple-A teams wherein I X’ed out Fresno, San Antonio, and Wichita and added St. Paul, Sugar Land, and a second Salt Lake team. Here you have eight PCL teams, with four Pacific time and four Mountain time teams. Then you have an even number of Central teams for the new Triple-A league–either six or eight if you include the CST Memphis and Nashville.
What would it mean to have a placeholder team in Salt Lake? Well, you have two teams share the ballpark, but play their home dates when the other team is out of town. Presumably, the Angels stay with the Bees, while the second team is affiliated with the Brewers or whatever team is left needing a farm club. As for branding, why not use the team’s Copa identity, Abejas?
Looking at the map, you might be wondering “why Salt Lake and not Las Vegas?” Geographically speaking, it might be slightly more efficient to have a northern Tacoma/Sacramento/Reno/Salt Lake grouping paired with a southern Vegas/Vegas/Albuquerque/El Paso grouping for divisions, but any slight edge is overshadowed by the time zone factor.
But is a double-Bees situation ideal? The Utah Utes college team also uses that field, so that could be a complicating factor. Also, there might be another, spicier option.
What about two teams in Fresno, but in separate leagues? Keep the Grizzlies where they are, but also satisfy the need for balance in the California League. Fresno was way ahead of the curve with their alternate Tacos identity, so how about make the Fresno Tacos a permanent team in the Cali League, but make the Fresno Grizzlies a placeholder team at Triple-A. I believe that the main reasons Fresno is slated for demotion (unlucky PDC, Cali League needs, etc.) are not their fault, but all things considered, they are probably the weakest link in the PCL chain and the Cali League is a better fit. So I say let Fresno have two teams for a few years, but have the Triple-A club controlled by the league or some neutral party. In a few years, maybe there would be new efforts to build a ballpark in the San Diego suburbs or in a former PCL market like Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, Tucson, or Portland–assuming they don’t get an MLB team soon.
Speaking of which, MLB expansion is likely to happen in the not-too-distant future, and the deck will be reshuffled then anyway. So use a placeholder and satisfy some short-term geographic needs, yet keep an eye to the optimal arrangement a few years down the road. It’ll be here before we know it.