Once Major League Baseball established each of its teams minor league affiliates, it could establish the realigned leagues. Once it established the realigned leagues, it could construct and unveil the schedules.
Said schedules are out today, and they look different than ever. They have some variations across the board, but they all share a few new wrinkles:
*Six-game series: In order to reduce travel, all teams are playing one opponent a week.
*Limited opponents: Keeping with the themes of easier travel and reduced intermingling, most teams will only see a portion of the league.
*Mondays off: All the blank dates down the second column of the calendars brings back fond memories of Saratoga Race Course’s dark days on Tuesdays. Foreign, yet familiar.
*Uneven games: Triple-A teams are scheduled to start on April 6-8 and play 142 games, while the other three leagues will start in the first week of May and play 120.
So what does this mean for each affiliate? Let’s explore.
While the former International League expanded to 20 teams, roping in Chicagoland’s closest Triple-A affiliates, the benefits won’t be reaped in 2021. The Knights are limited to Southeast Division opponents, and not even all of them. They won’t play Memphis once, but they will play a whopping 42 games against the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp.
The Knights won’t visit Indianapolis or Iowa this year. They will play one week in Nashville, though, which is great news for me.
Thanks to their central location in the largely intact remnants of the Southern League, the Barons have the most normal looking schedule of the bunch. Although their schedule favors their Northern Division rivals, they will play at least one home series and one away series against each of the Southern Division teams, with some extra games against the Montgomery Biscuits to fill in the calendar.
The Dash get to host the Hudson Valley Renegades, the northernmost team in the High-A East, but they don’t have to make a return trip to Wappingers Falls. They’ll only travel as far north as the Jersey Shore for a week, which the rest of the travel fairly contained for an otherwise sprawling league.
They will have to make the long trip west to Bowling Green, which is an hour away from Nashville. Again, great for me.
KANNAPOLIS CANNON BALLERS
After losing the entirety of their first inaugural season as the Cannon Ballers in their new park, Kannapolis gets to open the season at home. They’ll play most of the 12-team Low-A East, with only Myrtle Beach and Delmarva not on the schedule.
Before the leagues can get underway with fans in the stands, the players first need to make it through both spring trainings. Triple-A will get its roster ready earlier, but it faces an initial one-two punch of an early start (less time for vaccinations to increase) and farther travel (especially in the former PCL, which requires flights).
The lower leagues will have to wait for their players to make it through the second spring training in April, after which they’ll have to see whether it makes economic sense to play. Baseball America broke down the numbers and talked to clubs, and they said teams will need 20-25 percent capacity before it even starts to make sense to have fans at all.
I’ve been waiting for Baseball Prospectus’ farewell tour of the forgotten minor league affiliates to reach the Tri-City ValleyCats in my former home of Troy, N.Y., and it’s finally here. It’s heartwarming, because it traces the Capital Region’s baseball roots all the way back to the Troy Haymakers. It’s also heartbreaking, because it highlights Rob Manfred’s heartlessness:
The following month, Bill [Gladstone]’s son Doug, the owner of the ValleyCats, received an email from MLB commissioner Rob Manfred. Manfred passed along his condolences to Doug on the loss of his father. Words cannot bring a loved one back. It doesn’t make words empty. It was nice of Manfred, a typically busy fellow, to reach out.
But he made a big mistake. He wrote more words, which resulted in the negation of the sentiment of his previous words. He allegedly used the word “unwise,” as in, it would be “unwise” for the ValleyCats to publicly talk about the minor league contraction plan.
Those might be expensive words. After the ValleyCats were unexpectedly left without any connection to Major League Baseball, they sued, looking for at least $15 million. Most of that money has to do with their entire business model being based on fielding professional prospects, which they cannot do anymore.