Yankee Shuffle

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Who else but the Damn Yankees to be the first to burst the dam?

On November 6th, J.J. Cooper, citing multiple sources, posted an article for Baseball America stating that the New York Yankees would be making changes to their list of minor league affiliates moving forward, with Somerset set to replace Trenton in the Eastern League and the addition of Hudson Valley at the Class A-Advanced level. Both the Charleston RiverDogs and Staten Island Yankees will not be affiliated with New York moving forward. The following day, the Yankees confirmed these rumors. 

There are a few things to unpack here. Some are specific to these particular announcements and others relate to the bigger picture of the new minor league system.

On the Yankee side, it’s no big surprise that Somerset will be replacing Trenton in the Eastern League. That was hot gossip back in the summer. Hudson Valley is a bit more of a surprise. The Marv Goldklang connection has always been there, but the Yanks have favored Staten Island in the NY-Penn for the past twenty or so years. It’s a little surprising to see New York and Charleston part ways, as Peter Freund has ownership stakes in both the Yankees and RiverDogs and has been appointed by MLB to orchestrate this whole transition. On the whole, however, none of this raises eyebrows too high. 

But there are other considerations and greater implications. We now have confirmation that at least portions of the recent Ballpark Digest report–specific to the new Single-A structure–were accurate. The Yankees confirmed that the Florida State League will be at low-A. They also stated that Hudson Valley will be at high-A, and it’s easy to assume that they mean the Renegades will land in the rumored new league for mid-Atlantic region teams. (Perhaps I’m being intolerably pedantic here, but I refuse to use “Mid-Atlantic League” as a proper term. Has this upstart league claimed that moniker and trademarked it? I want proof, people!)

The Charleston RiverDogs are now without a master, but they are expected to continue with another major league club, presumably staying in the Sally League. There are a bunch of possibilities for Charleston’s new parent club. Operating with only partial information, I’d speculate that Washington, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Houston, and Kansas City could all be in the mix. The Cubs, Brewers, and Orioles can’t be ruled out either, though they may be more likely to stay with other clubs, depending on how the Sally/Carolina/mid-Atlantic leagues all shake out. 

Now let’s get into some of the ugly stuff. You can be sure that MLB’s preference would be to announce the entire list of 120 in one fell swoop. That would protect each individual MLB team from individual criticism and direct ire toward MLB as an entity, as in “Rob Manfred hates baseball.” Instead, it looks like we might be fed information piecemeal, with each MLB team getting their Orwellian two minutes hate. 

Now that I think about it, it’s kind of shocking that the Yankees would release an individual statement explaining who their affiliates would be moving forward. I get that social media tends to blow up and demand answers, but they are setting a precedent for the other 29 MLB teams to have to explain and justify their four affiliates moving forward.

I actually find this kind of cathartic. When the original “list of 42” came out–nearly exactly one year ago–I wrote a piece about it and noted that this is really a push by MLB teams rather than MLB as a whole. The league office sent out surveys to all 30 GMs and received results on which teams they would prefer or not prefer to be affiliated with. The Yankees could have stuck with Trenton and Staten Island, but instead they picked what they wanted. The other 29 teams are trying to do the same thing. MLB would more gladly take one big bullet over seeing each team take its own bullet. Scapegoating the commissioner’s office lets thirty rich men off the hook. 

 

Thunder

But the Yankees are taking one right on the chin. Trenton owner Joseph Plumeri absolutely eviscerated the Bronx Bombers in a statement. I highly recommend that you read the full thing, which includes some pointed remarks about classism, but the upshot is this sentence: “the Yankees’ actions are nothing short of despicable.”

When the rumors began swirling this summer about the Thunder being replaced by Somerset, I assumed that this meant that Trenton would be getting a demotion to Single-A, added to the new league. I mean, Trenton has perennially been one of the most undeniably vital teams in the Eastern League in terms of things like attendance and brand engagement. I thought it would a soft landing–a drop down a level with a new random parent club. Instead, the Yankees’ statement notes that Trenton will be “offered Somerset’s membership within the Atlantic League.” But after Plumeri’s tirade, I have to wonder if that bridge has been burned. After all, the Atlantic League is now an “MLB partner league.” Yikes. We’ll see where Trenton ends up, but I admire that they were able to fire a potent parting shot. 

 

SIY

Speaking of the Atlantic League, it sounds like the Staten Island Yankees are also destined to be shuffled off to the indy ranks. Staten Island was on that original list of 42, but New York’s President Randy Levine tamped down the furor at that time. Since then, I’ve had a big question mark next to Staten Island–holding out possibilities that they could be added to the new high-A league or kept around in whatever form the NY-Penn League takes. Cooper was able to get a choice quote from Staten Island Yankees’ President Will Smith: “If this is true, the Staten Island Yankees will explore all legal options,”

Whew. I didn’t expect this to be the way this process would go. Though I am always happy to knock bullies down a peg, I can’t really fault the Yankees here. They are simply making the best choices they can. I do the same thing when I go grocery shopping. I suppose it would have been nicer for them to stick around with Trenton and Staten in good faith, perhaps helping them to improve their facilities, but I don’t really expect MLB teams to be charitable in that way. It’s a dog-eat-RiverDog world.

And although he may have opened another Pandora’s Box, I can’t fault Cooper and BA for publishing the leak. Minor league teams need to know their future now. They need to begin planning and selling for 2021 (and beyond) as much as possible, and the longer it takes to get down to the list of 120, the more the minors suffer.  This whole bundle of news–the leak, the Yankees confirmation, the scathing statements from Plumeri and Smith, the media backlash, the public outcry–puts a tremendous amount of pressure on MLB to wrap up whatever details are remaining and get the full list of 120 released.

Until then, J.J. Cooper, Kevin Reichard, and other well-connected journalists can simply pick another MLB and leak their list. And then another. The dam is beginning to burst.