There was one Major League team left in need of a High A affiliate, and one High A team left in need of a parent club. Today, it became official as the Cincinnati Reds and Bakersfield agreed to a player development contract through 2012. The Reds were previously partnered with Lynchburg in the Carolina League for one season.
Bakersfield had been partnered with Texas for the last six years. That may not seem very long, but it's the longest they've been affiliated with one team since they were a Dodgers affiliate from 1984-94. In the six years Bakersfield and Texas were partnered, the Blaze went just 387-453 with one playoff appearance, coming in the 2009 season. They were below .500 in every year except 2009, and it would be hard to call this six year run anything but unsuccessful in terms of on field results.
In those six years, 27 Blaze players have gone on to make appearances in the majors. That includes a number of players on the Rangers' 2010 AL West championship team including Mitch Moreland, Michael Kirkman, Julio Borbon, Derek Holland, Tommy Hunter, Elvis Andrus and C.J. Wilson. Armando Galarraga, author of the (near) perfect game also pitched for Bakersfield as a Rangers prospect. Prospect and Rangers fans likely remember the DVD combo of Thomas Diamond, Edinson Volquez and John Danks. With Diamond debuting with the Cubs in 2010, the entire trio has finally pitched in the majors. All three are now in different organizations.
Those are the guys that Texas did assign to Bakersfield at one point, but another part of the story is the guys they didn't send. I couldn't check everyone in the Rangers organization, but I did come across a handful of players that skipped Bakersfield: Neftali Feliz, Ian Kinsler, Justin Smoak, Tanner Scheppers and Martin Perez. Those were all very highly touted prospects, and I'm sure the Rangers had their reasons for having them skip a level, and I'm also sure some of it had to do with Bakersfield.
“We are very excited to enter into an agreement with the Reds”, said Blaze owner D.G Elmore.
“We are confident they will be a productive partner on and off the field and we look forward to
this new chapter of Bakersfield Blaze baseball.”
“The Reds look forward to returning to the Cal League and beginning a relationship with
Bakersfield”, said Terry Reynolds, Senior Director of Player Development and Global Scouting.
“Player Development is a key component for the Reds and we will do our best to give the fans
of Bakersfield a team to be proud of."
The quote above indicates the Reds are fine with Bakersfield, but I bet their private reactions to when they found out their High A affiliate was headed to the California League wasn't quite as positive. By now, everyone knows that Bakersfield is less than desirable destination for prospects. Sam Lynn Ballpark is extremely old and not the greatest facility around. The franchise is in desperate need of a new stadium, but that could be difficult to come by. The Blaze don't receive great fan support, and it's fair to say the mood towards this team is indifferent or apathetic at best. The future of the Blaze is very much in doubt.
The Blaze hope to gain something from an affiliation with a new parent club. Maybe a new organization will re-energize the fanbase and get some new fans out to the stadium. It remains to be seen, but perhaps the Reds will see Bakersfield as an integral part of their development process, even for their most talented prospects. Where they assign top pick Yasmani Grandal in 2011 could be an indication. Cincinnati's Low A team is Dayton in the Midwest League, so that's where a majority of their players will come from.
To me, a number of dominoes fell that resulted in Cincinnati ending up in Bakersfield. In late 2007, Sarasota, Florida voters rejected a referendum that would've helped fund renovations to Ed Smith Stadium, the home of Reds spring training since 1998. Without a guarantee that the facilities would be improved, Cincinnati began looking for a new spring training home. They stayed in Sarasota through 2009, and they now train at Goodyear Park with the Cleveland Indians in Arizona.
In addition to Reds' spring training, their High A affiliate, the Sarasota Reds, occupied Ed Smith Stadium. Like a lot of Florida State League teams, Sarasota was owned by their parent club which makes a lot of sense. Most FSL teams play at their parent club's spring training stadium and use their facilities, so that's a great situation for both the major league team and the prospects. When the Major League Reds left Sarasota, they sold the Sarasota Reds franchise to the Pirates. They moved the team to Bradenton where the Pirates train, and the Reds took over the previous High A affiliate of Pittsburgh, the Lynchburg Hillcats in the Carolina League. This happened in the middle of a two year PDC set to go through 2010, but the Reds and Lynchburg never reached an extension.
Meanwhile in Texas, an ownership change was taking place. A group led by Chuck Greenberg and former Rangers great Nolan Ryan bought the Rangers in early August, and that's significant because Greenberg also owns a number of minor league teams. One of those is the Myrtle Beach Pelicans, another Carolina League team. Their PDC was also set to expire after 2010, and it quickly became apparent that the Braves would not be signing an extension.
Once minor league teams were able to negotiate with new parent clubs, sort of a franchise free agency, the Rangers and Pelicans became affiliated as expected. At this point, there weren't many options left. Lynchburg and Kinston were the two Carolina League teams free, and three 2010 Carolina League parent clubs were looking for teams: Cincinnati, Cleveland and now Atlanta. Kinston and Cleveland re-signed with each other, and the Braves were able to get a deal with Lynchburg.
That left Cincinnati with no choice but to move west. Three teams were available in the Cal League, Bakersfield, Inland Empire and Rancho Cucamonga. As was widely speculated for awhile, the Angels and Dodgers swapped Rancho Cucamonga and Inland Empire, and that left Cincinnati and Bakersfield. It's not an ideal situation for them, and it's possible that they look for a new High A affiliate after the 2012 season. For now, they're part of a somewhat different looking Cal League, and fans will have the opportunity to see a new organization for a couple years.