Minor League Shuffling and the future of the Tampa Bay market

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Starting on September 11, several Minor League teams have been participating in the annual “affiliation shuffle“. This “shuffle” means teams, cities, and Major League parent clubs change and rearrange minor league squads from the ranks of one parent club to another. With over 160 minor league teams across the country, the “affiliation shuffle” is a usual occurrence and some Minor League websites not only look forward to it, but excel in covering it.

While many cities and towns see their local squad change parent team, and sometimes even name and uniform, the Florida State League has stayed static. At least until this year.

For the first time in several years, a Florida State League team is changing affiliation. On September 18th, the Cubs left Daytona. According to Baseball America,

Twenty-two years as Chicago’s affiliate came to an end when the Cubs bolted for Myrtle Beach (Carolina) on the first day of the affiliation shuffle on Tuesday. Daytona found an eager partner in the Reds

Of course, the Reds will eventually change the team name (perhaps something race track related?). The Reds are also no stranger to Florida, having played in Sarasota for many years and in Tampa at Al Lopez Field for many years before that.

Of the 12 Florida State League teams, 8 are owned and operated by the parent club. Only the Rookie-level Pioneer League comes to close to the FSL’s ratio of parent ownership, with 6 of 10 teams in that league owned by the Major League club.

The four privately owned teams in the Florida State League are:

  • Charlotte Stone Crabs (currently a Rays affiliate)
  • Brevard County Manatees (currently a Brewers affiliate)
  • Fort Myers Miracle (currently a Twins affiliate)
  • Daytona Cubs (formerly a Cubs affiliate, now a Reds team)

While a former Tampa team moves back to Florida, the current residents of the Tampa Bay area are set for quite some time. At the present moment, all of the Tampa Bay area minor league teams are owned by their parent club. The Tampa Yankees are owned by the Yankees, the Threshers are owned by the Phillies, the Marauders are owned by the Pirates, and the Dunedin Blue Jays are owned by the Dunedin Blue Jays.

There is one date the local minor league teams do have to consider – the date the city lease expires on their stadium. Once the lease expires, teams are free to move to another location.

Currently, the Tampa Bay area Minor League stadium leases are as follows:

  • Dunedin Blue Jays: 2017
  • Clearwater Threshers: 2023
  • Tampa Yankees: 2027
  • Bradenton Marauders: 2037

The City of Dunedin and the Blue Jays are in talks and there are rumors the Blue Jays are exploring other options after the lease expires in 2017, although the Palm Beach location rumored to house two of either the Blue Jays, Nationals, or Astros is currently facing a few legal hurdles.

(Note: Both the Astros and Nationals, neither of whom have a Minor League teams in the Florida State League, have their leases expiring in 2016. If the two teams leave Kissimmee and Melbourne Viera, respectively, then the Blue Jays will have to re-sign with Dunedin or look elsewhere.)

I think the most interesting of the Tampa Bay team lease situations will be the Tampa Yankees in 2027. Because that date is so close to the end of the Rays’ Tropicana Field lease, if the City of Tampa clears area for the Rays to move across the bridge, would they let the Yankees go? Would the Rays make moving the Yankees a condition in moving to Tampa? Would the Yankees willingly move?

Or would the Tampa Sports Authority try to have their cake and eat it too, balancing both the top drawing Spring Training team and a Major League team who, by the way, are division rivals? Would they keep the Rays in a crowded market?

I wouldn’t be surprised if as we get closer, Rays ownership mentions this to the Tampa Sports Authority, if not in public, at least behind closed doors. The Rays might not have the ability to push the Clearwater Threshers or Bradenton Marauders out of the Tampa Bay market, but they might flex their muscles at Tampa’s relationship with the Yankees.

Forcing Minor League teams to move is not without precedent. The Marlins forced the Miracle from Miami and the Florida State League Yankees from Fort Lauderdale in 1992.

Because the National League awarded an expansion team to the Miami area, the Miracle moved across the state to Fort Myers this year and the Yankees are dropping their Fort Lauderdale team next year. Both teams have played in the Class A Florida State League.

“We are prohibited from playing there because of the Marlins,” (Yankees’ vice president and general counsel) David Sussman said.

Something to think about for the next 10 years as we watch the local squads take on the new Daytona team and the rest of the Florida State League.

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