The news that was imminent for weeks finally became official yesterday as the Mets signed a two-year Player Development Contract with Las Vegas. The Mets had spent the previous four years aligned with Buffalo and all things being equal they would have preferred to extend that agreement. But the Bisons were unhappy with the arrangement and jumped at the chance to align with the Toronto Blue Jays.
Most people are moaning and groaning about the downside of the new affiliation. While it’s silly to pretend that there are not disadvantages here – there are several and they will be addressed in a minute – I say good riddance to Buffalo. In an ideal world, the affiliation works on several levels for both parties. Yet the entire time that the Mets were partnered with the Bisons, it seemed that Buffalo was nothing but a high maintenance girlfriend that demanded New York tell her how pretty she was and to buy her gifts non stop.
Buffalo had hopes of being a big league city when it built Coca-Cola Field prior to the 1998 season. But their expansion dreams fell short and the city has seemingly carried a chip on its shoulder ever since. Most affiliates understand that player development is the primary goal of the parent organization but Buffalo places much more emphasis on winning.
The Mets have had young players like Baxter, Carson, Davis, Duda, Edgin, Familia, Gee, Harvey, McHugh, Mejia, Niese, Nieuwenhuis, Tejada, Thole, Valdespin and Wheeler play in Buffalo but it seems like all the Bisons want is for the team to be stocked with AAAA sluggers like Mike Hessman and Val Pascucci so they can pad their win totals.
The affiliation got off on the wrong foot in 2009, when every player on the Mets’ roster got injured, they constantly called up people from Triple-A and the Bisons were a dismal 56-87. Things improved dramatically the following season, as Buffalo went 76-68 and re-upped with the Mets. But consecutive sub .500 seasons the past two seasons doomed the relationship.
The Mets ended up in Las Vegas because it was the last minor league city without an affiliate. The reality is that there are more Triple-A teams on or west of the Mississippi than there are MLB teams in the same area. Typically, some East Coast team gets stuck with an affiliate in the Pacific Coast League when they would rather be in the International League.
One of the first complaints you hear is about travel. A flight from Buffalo to New York takes 1:15 while a flight from Las Vegas to New York is four hours longer. Theoretically you could make a move three hours before game time and have a player from Buffalo in Queens and ready to play that night. Now the Mets will need at least seven hours to make a similar move.
Cry me a river on this one. First, how many times a year does this come into play? Do you think it’s as many as 10 times? And who’s to say that when this happens that both teams will be at home at the same time? And it’s not like this type of move typically involves a major league star or a top prospect, either. This is, in my opinion, much ado about nothing. We are not in the era of train travel and waiting the next day for information. A little advance planning will solve the majority of this trivial issue.
The next complaint you will hear is about the offensive environment. Las Vegas has historically been one of the top hitting parks in minor league baseball. Since the Mets’ top prospects are mostly pitchers, how will they react to playing in the minor league equivalent of Coors Field? I think we all understand that the pitching numbers will not look like they did in Buffalo. So will it be that hard to change what we consider a good performance?
Look at things like K/BB and K/IP – which you should be looking at already – instead of ERA. Compare things to league averages, while understanding that part of the PCL is very hitter-friendly, while a handful of teams that came from the old American Association are much more pitcher-friendly. If Zack Wheeler gives up 4 ER in 7 IP, that’s probably a pretty good start, especially if it comes with 1 BB and 8 Ks. If your affiliate is in a park that really favors one group over another, simply recognize it and adjust your expectations.
And it will be up to the Mets organization to drive this point home to their players. A 4.50 ERA is not awful and a 20 HR season is nothing to get excited about. There are going to be more runs allowed by the pitchers and more offense supplied by the hitters. Take the air out of the stats and evaluate accordingly. Bill James showed everyone how to do that about 30 years ago. If a front office led by Sandy Alderson, Paul DePodesta and J.P. Ricciardi can’t do this – what can they do?
Another problem with the move to Las Vegas is the field itself. The brutally hot days combined with very little rain makes the infield rock hard. While this gets the least mileage out of all the complaints, it may be the most relevant one. It’s hard to imagine perennially injured Reese Havens having a DL-free season here, of all places.
And there’s the name of the field itself – Cashman Field. How will the Mets handle playing on a field that shares a name with the Yankees GM? The horror, the horror…
For many years, Las Vegas was the Triple-A affiliate of the Padres. Then they were aligned with the Dodgers for eight years and then the Blue Jays for four seasons. Most Mets fans are hoping that the new relationship will be up after two seasons. But I want to give Las Vegas a chance. Perhaps it recognizes its status as a non-desirable minor league affiliate and will work hard with the Mets to make the relationship work. It would be a nice change from what we experienced recently with Buffalo.
Forget 1930s era “Shuffle off to Buffalo.” Give me Elvis belting out “Viva, Las Vegas!” Once you’ve seen Niagara Falls and the Erie Canal, what do you do in Buffalo besides plot a way out? Give me the glitz and the excitement of Sin City. Most everyone is excited about the chance to go to Las Vegas. I would like to invite Mets fans to join me in feeling the same way about our affiliate being there. Shoot, I may even make a road trip to go see them. Not once in four years did that thought enter my mind when they were in Buffalo.