Friday, January 26, 2007

Could Fort Wayne Baseball Change In More A's Than One?

The A's: AAA - AA - A - Affiliation
A DFWB Exclusive

A change in venue for Fort Wayne baseball could also be a great opportunity to consider a change in league membership and/or MLB team affiliation. The Fort Wayne BaseballPlus committee considered this when they recommended that if a downtown ballpark is to be built, it should be to AA standards.

"In anticipation of future growth and the anticipated popularity of a downtown baseball stadium in Fort Wayne, the Committee recommends that the stadium be built to the AA standards established for minor league baseball stadiums under the terms of the Professional Baseball Agreement." - BaseballPlus Committee Report

Furthermore, in a recent poll by Indiana's News Center and the Journal Gazette, stadium proponents mentioned, "the ballpark would ... bring Fort Wayne a higher-level baseball team."

First, we will ask, "What is the difference between the minor league levels?" The following italicized information is from a Wikipedia article on Minor League Baseball:
  • Class AAA - Teams are typically in the largest metropolitan areas without Major League Baseball franchises (Buffalo, New York; Las Vegas, Nevada; etc). Usually holds the remaining 15 players of the 40 man roster who are not eligible to be on the major league club. Often referred to as a "parking lot" because many major-league quality players (especially if they had signed with some of the leagues' worst teams) are held in reserve at the minor league level for major league emergencies (since they would not have to clear waivers to be called up). Still, some of the top prospects might be assigned here if they are not quite ready for the major leagues, with a view towards being called up later in the season.
  • Class AA - This is the fastest-moving, most fluid group of players. Usually located in mid-sized cities such as Akron, Ohio. Many will jump to the major league from this level, as many of the top prospects are put here to play against each other, rather than against players with big-league experience often seen in "AAA." A small handful of players might be placed here to start, usually veterans from foreign leagues with more experience in professional baseball. The expectation is usually that these players will be in the majors by the end of the season, as their salaries tend to be higher than those of most prospects.
  • Class A - Baseball players are honing their skills. Usually located in small or mid-sized cities or suburbs of large cities (Asheville, North Carolina; suburban Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; etc). They usually have particular issues to work out: Control for pitchers, consistency for batters are the two most frequent reasons someone is assigned to Class A baseball.
  • Independent Baseball - Teams have no MLB affiliations, hence the term independent. Teams and leagues vary in skill level and player experience.

Which league would best fit Fort Wayne? Let's look at the possibilities:

  • MLB: I think we all can agree that Fort Wayne does not have the required population base. Indianapolis on the other hand...
  • AAA: There are three leagues within AAA: Mexican League, Pacific Coast League, and the International League. The Mexican League and Pacific Coast League do not fit Fort Wayne geographically. The International League however is home to nearby cities such as Indianapolis, Toledo, Louisville, and Columbus.
2006 Triple A International League Team Locations

Next, we will look at the population of the AAA International League cities and their Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSA's)

From the chart we see that Fort Wayne would rank 9 out of 15 for city population size, and 15 out of 15 according to MSA population size.

Conclusion: Unlikely

Although AAA would work geographically, Fort Wayne would have the smallest MSA in the league, and thus, most likely the smallest fan base to pull from. Also, the minimum seating capacity requirement for an AAA team is roughly 10,000. This would lead to increasing the capacity of the proposed Harrison Square ballpark by 2,000 more seats. (Current plans call for 5,000 fixed seats and 3,000 additional seats such as lawn areas.) Additional seating requires additional funding - let’s not get into that debate.

  • AA: There are three leagues within AA: Eastern League, Southern League, and Texas League. The Southern League (no teams are located north of TN) and Texas League (no teams are located east of the Mississippi river) do not fit Fort Wayne geographically, and the Eastern League cities are not that much closer. The closest cities to Fort Wayne geographically include Akron, OH, Erie, PA, and Altoona, PA.

2006 Double A Eastern League Team Locations

Next, we will look at the population of the AA Eastern League cities and their Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSA's)

From the chart we see that Fort Wayne would rank 1 out of 13 for city population size and 4 out of 13 according to MSA population size.

Conclusion: Possible

Double A is a double-edged sword. AA is a great fit population-wise, (Fort Wayne would be the largest in terms of city population in the entire league) but geographical location isn’t exactly ideal. The closest team to Fort Wayne in terms of driving distance would be Akron, OH (219 miles) and the furthest team from Fort Wayne would be Portland, ME (970 miles). In comparison with Fort Wayne’s current league, (Single A Midwest) the closest team is South Bend, IN (89 miles) and the furthest team from Fort Wayne is Cedar Rapids, IA (394 miles).

  • A: Single A baseball is divided between High A and Low A leagues. None of the three High A leagues are a match geographically (California League, Carolina League, and Florida State League). Low A baseball is home to the South Atlantic League and the Midwest League, current home league for the Fort Wayne Wizards. Obviously, if the Wizards were to remain in Single A baseball, they would remain in the Midwest League.

2006 Single A Midwest League Team Locations

Next, we will look at the population of the A Midwest League cities and their Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSA's)


From the chart we see that Fort Wayne currently ranks 1 out of 14 for city population size and 4 out of 14 according to MSA population size.

Conclusion: More of the same, since this is the Wizard's current league

Side note:

There is one other option in terms of league membership that would put the Wizards at a similar playing level to Single A and that is the Frontier League, a member of Independent Baseball.

2006 Frontier League Team Locations (Independent)

As you can see, membership in the Frontier league would put Fort Wayne essentially in the middle of the pack geographically. However, the Frontier league contains non-MLB affiliated teams, so this would essentially be a step-down for Fort Wayne baseball.


Final Conclusion About League Membership:

The ballpark at Harrison Square is planned to be built to Double A standards for a team that is currently classified as a low-level Single A team. If Fort Wayne ever wanted to upgrade to Double A, the change in venues would be a great time to do so. Double A baseball could provide Fort Wayne with a higher level of competition and excitement, bringing fans closer to a major league experience. A new ballpark would feature enhanced capacity, amenities, and a vibrant setting. These aspects will gain the interest of a higher caliber league and their players - something Memorial Stadium cannot provide.

What about team affiliation?

The other aspect of a team's identity in minor league baseball is team affiliation. A minor league team that is affiliated with a MLB team is part of the parent team's farm system and player development strategy. Basically, this means that your favorite minor league player could play for their parent team on the big stage if they prove to be a valuable player. There's also the possibility of a current big leaguer coming to town, either because they've been sent down to improve their skills or they're doing some rehab work.

Minor league affiliation is controlled by agreements known as Player Development Contracts (PDCs). These agreements between a parent club and a minor league franchise determine a minor league team's affiliation and generally last for 2 or 4 years. You can see a list of current PDCs here.

According to the list, the Fort Wayne Wizards' ties to the San Diego Padres are set to expire in 2008. Coincidentally enough, this is right before the 2009 season in a possible new downtown ballpark at Harrison Square. This means that the Wizards could potentially have a new team affiliation to start off the 2009 season in their new downtown home. This is left to the San Diego Padres and the Wizards to decide.

Having discounted Triple A membership above, what opportunities exist for Fort Wayne in terms of new team affiliation among Single and Double A franchises?

The following franchises have Player Development Contracts through 2010 for Single A:

Kansas City Royals, Detroit Tigers, Baltimore Orioles, and the Cleveland Indians

Three franchises in low-level Single A are owned by their parent teams and thus won't change affiliations. Those teams are the Toronto Blue Jays, Chicago White Sox, and Atlanta Braves.

All other teams have PDC's expiring at the end of 2008 and are possible new affiliates for the Wizards if they remain in the Single A league.

Looking at Double A, the following teams have Player Development Contracts through 2010:

Pittsburgh Pirates, Baltimore Orioles, Washington Nationals, Chicago White Sox, Texas Rangers, and the Colorado Rockies

Two franchises in Double A are owned by their parent teams and won't change affiliations. These teams are the Atlanta Braves and the St. Louis Cardinals.

All other teams have PDC's expiring in 2008 and are possible new affiliates for the Wizards if they move to Double A.

Final Conclusion about team affiliation:

With all of these PDC's expiring in 2008, there is a whole slew of affiliations that the Wizards could potentially take on to start the 2009 season in a new downtown ballpark.

Taking it even further, the Wizards could switch affiliations to a team that is geographically closer, such as the Chicago Cubs, Detroit Tigers, Cincinnati Reds, or Cleveland Indians, providing Fort Wayne fans with a more direct connection to the players and those players' future major league clubs.

Putting it all together

The Harrison Square downtown development project presents a unique opportunity to change the dynamics, character, and substance of Fort Wayne baseball with the construction of a new ballpark in the heart of the city. The timing seems too good to be true, with circumstances such that a new chapter may very well be written in Fort Wayne's baseball history at the start of the 2009 season.

Of course, all of this depends on whether or not a developer comes forward to build a 300 room hotel as part of the Harrison Square project. Without the hotel, the project won't be able to move forward because the hotel itself is a major source of revenue towards the financing of Harrison Square.

Do you think the Wizards should pursue a different league and/or major league affiliation for the 2009 season?

How would a new league or affiliation affect Fort Wayne or your opinion on the overall Harrison Square project?

Any other comments, questions, or suggestions?


Population statistics are June 2005 estimates from city-data.com
MSA statistics are June 2005 estimates from census.gov
Attendance figures are from ballparkwatch.com/features/attendance_by_league_affiliated_2006.html
Team location maps and driving distance mileage estimates are according to maps.google.com

6 comments:

Scott Greider said...

Wow!!! What a phenomenal post!

The Downtown Times said...

Its pretty ironic that you posted this today, I was just thinking the same thing a couple of days ago, and considering the possibilities of a change in affiliation or class.

I don't think we'll seen a change in affiliation for the Wizard's anytime soon, but a change in class is likely.

Look at the Akron Aeros. In a city small than Fort Wayne, their total attendance for the 2006 season was 412,995. Thats close to double the attendance of the Wizard's for the 2006 season. In 2004, the Aeros had a total attendance of 478,611.

They play at Canal Park in downtown Akron, which was built in 1996. They are a Double-A affiliate of the Cleaveland Indians.

Just a thought...
Great post by the way.

brian said...

Less than an hour drive between Akron and Cleveland definitely helps attendance figures. Same as with Dayton/Cincinnati.
Akron may be smaller than Fort Wayne, but the metropolitan statistical area (Cleveland and its suburbs) is almost double that of Fort Wayne's.
I agree that change in class is likely, but to what league? The Eastern league is the only possible AA choice, and it doesn't fit well geographically.
It seems to me that there simply isn't a AA league in our part of the country.
If Fort Wayne left the single A Midwest league for an advanced level, it might make sense for Dayton, OH to consider advancing as well.

Adam Welch said...

Wow is right. Great post with great use of sources.

Personally, I have always had the desire to have a higher caliber team. It is apparent from reading the post that there is no doubt this would be somewhat challenging due to the combination of our size/location.

However, despite all of this, I would be in full support of a AA team, but at the same time I realize that this might be asking for too much. In all honesty, it makes sense why we are in the Midwest League, yet I truly feel that moving up a class would improve attendance and interest.

As for affililates, I would also like to see the Wizards change. It's not that I dislike the Padres, but geographically, I don't know if you could get any worse. I agree with your post in the fact that should we get an affiliate with more ties to the Midwest, attendance/interest would increase. While I am slightly biased since they are my favorite team, I would love to see the Cubbies be the new affiliate...Fort Wayne itself is also a Cubs town.

No matter what is decided upon, I have to say this was an extremely interesting and intriguing post. It would be great to see a higher level of baseball in Ft Wayne in a few years, however, I'd be understanding if things stayed the way they are.....it's absurd to me that the whole minor league system is based pretty much on geography.

LP Mike Sylvester said...

Thay is an excellent post with great research!

I enjoyed reading it!

Mike Sylvester

The Downtown Times said...

Brian-
True, I guess I never took that into consideration.

But great blog, and great research!