A few days ago the Mets extended their Player Development Contract (PDC) with Las Vegas, meaning that the team’s top minor league club will remain in the Pacific Coast League (PCL) for the next two seasons. Many lament the team’s situation. But the problems are overblown and it’s not like the Mets had much choice, anyway.
The first thing to understand is that the Mets don’t own their Triple-A club. This is not unusual. The Braves are the only team to own their top affiliate while four other teams are part-owners. Since they don’t own the team, the Mets just can’t pick up the franchise and move it. The other thing to keep in mind is that these PDCs are signed for either two or four-year stints. So, it’s not like every franchise was available at the conclusion of 2016. Here’s the list of teams and cities whose contract expired at the end of this baseball season:
Brewers (Colorado Springs)
Padres (El Paso)
Phillies (Lehigh Valley)
Right off the bat, we can eliminate Colorado Springs, El Paso, Fresno and Tacoma because they’re in the PCL and they all have the same issues that the Mets seemingly have with Las Vegas. That leaves three potential spots. The Phillies have been with Lehigh Valley since the club moved there in 2008. They moved there from Ottawa, where they were also aligned with Philadelphia. There was virtually no chance of a switch here. The Tigers and Toledo have been together since 1987, making it one of the longest running partnerships in baseball, so again there was virtually no chance of a switch.
That leaves Rochester. The Twins have been there since 2003 but there was a tiny opening here. Former Twins GM Terry Ryan was the man who made that affiliation happen, as previously Rochester had been aligned with Baltimore for many, many years. But the Twins fired Ryan during the 2016 season, turning what would have been a slam-dunk renewal into a situation with a little doubt. But the Twins and Rochester extended their agreement in early August, making the Mets’ return to Las Vegas inevitable.
So, the Mets and 51s will be partners through at least 2018 when perhaps there will be a greater chance of a move to a closer city. Among the cities whose PDC will be up at the end of 2018 are Durham, Louisville, Nashville and Syracuse. Nashville, while still in the PCL, is at least in the Central Time Zone.
If you’re wondering how teams like Nashville and former Mets affiliate New Orleans are in the PCL, it’s because in 1997 the American Association, whose teams were primarily in the middle of the country, disbanded and half the league joined the International League and the other half joined the PCL, as we went from three U.S. based Triple-A leagues to two.
What makes Nashville a potential future home is that their parent club is the Oakland A’s. It seems reasonable that the A’s would prefer a Triple-A club closer to home, too. They wouldn’t be limited to just Las Vegas, either. Albuquerque, Fresno and Reno are among the PCL clubs that will be open after 2018.
You hear many complaints about Las Vegas, chief among them the distance from New York and Sin City, and the high-offense environment. But there are roughly 200 daily flights between the two cities. We’re not in the days of train travel here. And the high offense environment has not done much to stunt the growth of the Mets’ pitchers, as guys like Jacob deGrom, Steven Matz and Noah Syndergaard as well as Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo all saw time in Las Vegas.
Ideally, the Mets’ top affiliate would be on the East Coast. But the Mets are better off with a partner who appreciates them, rather than one who constantly bickered with them, like they had in Buffalo. Here’s what 51s President Don Logan told Betsy Helfand of the Las Vegas Review-Journal when the new PDC was signed:
“There’s a level of comfort from a familiarity perspective. I know all those guys and they know our staff. They’re comfortable,” Logan said. “I think there’s just a comfort level that they have and certainly we have with them and we’ve had so many good players here.”
Did you ever hear that from the Buffalo owners?