The Mets Ride the Rumble Pony Express out of Columbia

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Considering the times we are living in, today (Nov. 10) was relatively tame on minor league news front. But the one big chunk that we have to gnaw on is a juicy one! The New York Mets held a press conference today to introduce new owner Steve Cohen, and they took the occasion to announce that their minor league affiliates in the new system will be Syracuse, Binghamton, Brooklyn, and St. Lucie. That’s a very Mets-ish list of minor league teams, but it’s deceptively interesting. 

The eye-popper is that the Binghamton Rumble Ponies have been saved at the 11th hour. Cohen is sure to earn some brownie points with upstaters, as well as with Senator Chuck Schumer–who toured Binghamton’s facility last winter to advocate for the Ponies. Binghamton, after years and years of relocation rumors, was on the original leaked list of 42 teams in November of last year. While teams like the Erie SeaWolves were recently rumored to be more on the side of safety, all remained quiet in Binghamton. 

If you had asked me yesterday which minor league teams were most likely to leave the system, I probably would have mentioned Binghamton in the same breath as the Jackson Generals and Lancaster JetHawks and Florida Fire Frogs. In fact, here’s what I had written about the Ponies on the MLG Endangered Teams list: “I’d say that there’s next to zero chance of them staying in the Eastern League, and the Brooklyn Cyclones are expected to replace them as the Mets’ Double-A club.” 

Those weren’t the ravings of a mad man! Heck, an ESPN article–published only two months ago–had this quote: “Four teams on the original cut list are in New York, including the Binghamton Rumble Ponies, currently the Mets’ Double-A affiliate. Owner John Hughes said he felt helpless when he learned his team would be replaced by the Brooklyn Cyclones, the Mets’ current Rookie League team.”

Next to zero isn’t quite zero, though, and Binghamton got a last-minute bailout. This is a big-time surprise, and one that makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

This change won’t disrupt expectations for the Eastern League very much. While there wasn’t a formal announcement about which league Binghamton would be in, J.J. Cooper’s report says that the Ponies will stay at Double-A and Brooklyn will be in the new “mid-atlantic” High-A league. I can’t believe we’re living in a world where Trenton (Trenton!) might be the only team leaving the Eastern League. Nuts! 

But if Binghamton is saved, some other team somewhere will have to go. Brooklyn’s potential presence in the Mally League doesn’t seem to cause many ripples, but the minor leagues are a very intricate house of cards. I wrote a piece earlier today that included some maps of possible teams in the Mally League, and I guess those are already obsolete.

Brooklyn can fit nicely into the new league alongside possibles like Hudson Valley, Jersey Shore, Aberdeen, West Virginia, and Wilmington. The Tri-City ValleyCats remain a long-shot, and I suppose it’s possible that Trenton could sneak in if they haven’t burned every MLB bridge. If you ask me at this precise moment, it’s easiest for me to imagine a six-team Mally League with Brooklyn, Hudson Valley, Wilmington, Jersey Shore, Aberdeen, and West Virginia.

Brooklyn’s addition to the Mally can potentially cause some shifts in other leagues, mostly due to the fate of Fredericksburg. The FredNats could fit into either the Mally, the Carolina, or the Low-A South Atlantic League. (You could say that they’re Mally-able. Yuk yuk.) That could, in turn, put pressure on teams like Lynchburg, Greensboro, Asheville, or others that don’t have built-in parent clubs. It may also take away the admittedly slim possibility of Chattanooga surviving at a lower level, like I had in this map. Since Washington doesn’t have a built-in Florida State League team, the FredNats could be Delmarva’s neighbor in the SAL. Both the Orioles and Nationals would get to have their cake and ice cream.

Heading further south, we have the mildly notable news that the Columbia Fireflies will no longer be affiliated with the Mets. It seemed like a natural fit–mostly because of the old Columbia Mets and Capital City Bombers. But the two teams had a good run together! I mean, people will be talking about the Fireflies for centuries because of an amazing athlete named Tim Tebow. 

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The Fireflies, while also releasing a perfectly professional release thanking the Mets for their years together, posted a tweet for the ages. 

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The Fireflies play in a vintage 2016 facility and will certainly have no problem getting a new parent club. Kevin Reichard’s report suggests that it will be a team from the American League Central. While we don’t know for sure if the Fireflies will be in the Carolina League (High A) or the SAL (Low A), it’s a fun process of elimination to try to narrow it down. We can rule out the White Sox, who already have their affiliates sewn up in both of those leagues. We can also rule out the Twins and Tigers, since they are both going to have affiliates in the Midwest League (High-A) and Florida State League (Low-A). If Columbia’s in the Carolina League, we can rule out Cleveland, but not so if the Fireflies are in the Sally. The Kansas City Royals, however, are poised to potentially have new affiliates at both Single-A levels, and it’s easy to imagine one of them being Columbia.

Now that I think about it, it might be fun to see if the Royals end up with a cushy situation similar to the White Sox. If Columbia and Augusta happen to land at different levels, some untethered team like the Royals could hit the jackpot by landing both. And that would be good for the affiliates because the Royals are crappy these days. Crappy teams lead to marketable prospects and legendary alums. Think of the bobbleheads, people! 

 

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The New York Mets now have a minor league system in which many young players will start out in the Gulf Coast League, playing in the St. Lucie spring training complex. The following year, they’ll return to St. Lucie to play in the Florida State League. Then, from a centralized hub in the Flushing mothership, they’ll be able to move between Brooklyn, Binghamton, and Syracuse–all within the Empire State. Come to think of it, it’s very similar to the Yankees’ new setup. 

So when will we hear about some, uh, non-New York teams? We’ll see. Columbia’s press release said that they look forward to announcing their new affiliation in the coming weeks. Other reports suggest that MLB teams have been notified of their assigned affiliates. It’s hard to tell if the overall structure is already set in stone, or if there’s still some give in some places. We’re also getting things like the Rochester Red Wings announcing (for whatever reason) that the Twins have notified them that they won’t be Minnesota’s affiliate moving forward. This is unsurprising–we’ve known about the St. Paul Saints’ expected transition for like, thirteen months now, but it’s still kind of weird to hear about it this way. 

I think we can safely expect many more of these weird little leaks, at least until the whole shebang is unveiled.