Mets MiLB Shuttle: Possible Eliminated Teams (Not Players)

MCU Park, Coney Island, Brooklyn, NY. Photo credit Scott Greene.

The Prospect Shuttle

The New York Mets prospect “shuttle,” always a fun topic. Ever a debated managerial move, but for neither here nor there. The Mets actually received positive reviews switching Las Vegas with the commonsensical, geographical town of Syracuse as their AAA affiliate. Most importantly, players received the benefit of eliminating the 3+ hour “shuttle” flight that was previously in use. Much unlike their cross-town competition, in which a player became infamous after arriving mid-game via Uber.

In the end, it was a fantastic relocation for a Mets-affiliated team. The community embraced the team located in a thriving, growing economical area. We’ll cover the potential 2020 New York Mets to Syracuse “shuttle bus” in the coming weeks. For now, remember the phrase Mets-affiliated team as it’ll come to be quite important by the end of the article.

Organizations and rosters as a whole are being shuffled, torn apart, and eliminated. The impacts are incredibly far-reaching and some outlooks unfathomable. Some may downright raise your concerns for the future of MiLB baseball as a whole. With further negotiations looming in 2022, the finer details of this proposal become that much more critical, with each side gaining leverage wherever they can (such as the five-round 2020 Amateur Draft).

With entire teams being affected, fear not, we have all of your New York Mets affiliates covered here. We will explore the shuffle in-depth, which teams are relocating, and why. The towns that call these teams home, the loyal fans, and exactly where each Mets affiliate will play in the future.

Before we dive in too deep, let’s begin by looking at these (current) New York Mets affiliated teams that will be most affected. Please keep in mind that none of this has become 100% official yet, but we are exploring the very, very likely scenario that MLB has put in place.

Binghamton Rumble Ponies

It would be unfair and harshly critical to say that any organization put themselves, or their teams, in this position. Nonetheless, when given the task of eliminating 42 MiLB teams, this was one of the easiest decisions for the committee. Finishing last in the Eastern League in attendance by a fair margin in 2019 (the only team that fell below 200,000), Binghamton was an obvious choice for the MLB.

The Binghamton Rumble Ponies have been affiliated with the New York Mets since 1992 and it was a sensical partnership with a convenient geographical location. The team that will replace Binghamton is amazingly even more conveniently located, and within a very large media market; therefore the ease in MLB eliminating Binghamton from their end.

Aspects such as a shrinking population and fewer income opportunities, allowed Binghamton to hit the chopping block fairly easily for MLB.

There were not many cuts at the Double-A level. Binghamton is one of only two teams in the Eastern League and one of four Double-A teams in all to be eliminated. Without MLB affiliation, the facility will now hope for a team to join an independent league. The Road to Queens will no longer run through “Rumbletown” in Binghamton.

Brooklyn Cyclones

On the opposite side of the spectrum lies the Brooklyn Cyclones. No, I did not pick them at random to be next. More so because they will actually, in a sense, take the place of the Binghamton team as they become the new Mets Double-A affiliate.

Formerly a short-season team that thrived in the New York Penn League, leading the league in attendance. Brooklyn’s promotion results in a valuable commodity, becoming the only MLB-affiliated team located in New York City. Not to mention that they will now be the AA-affiliate, an increase of nearly $9m in team valuation from playing level alone, without taking into consideration the media market, stadium, revenue increases, team success, etc.

Kingsport Mets

The final Mets affiliate placed on the chopping block is the Kingsport Mets. Along with the remainder of the Appalachian league, the team will have its MLB-affiliation and ties severed. Kingsport has had a relationship with the New York Mets dating back to 1980 (one of the longest in the league) and we even had a correspondent visit Kingsport, TN a few years ago.

The city government developed downtown revitalization plans and a blueprint for a multipurpose facility that would have become the new home of the Kingsport Mets, amongst shopping, restaurants, and more.

New York Mets Kingsport Mets Redevelopment Proposal
Conceptual drawing to the city of the recommended multi-purpose outdoor venue for the Kingsport Mets. (Photo courtesy of & Sterling Project Development)

The vote was approved 6-1 but regardless, it was too late for MLB’s consideration. This would have put Kingsport’s facilities on par with any of the higher-drawing teams in the league, but the Mets may never get to play there. Then-mayor of Kingsport gave it his best shot in 2015 to lead the revitalization, but here we are five years later, and I don’t foresee the MLB adding patience to their list of qualities desired.

System Outlook

With the shuffling of teams on top of MLB’s proposal to develop a uniform system throughout the minor leagues, let’s review what the Mets system will look like. At the top, players frequently on the aforementioned shuttle to Queens, will be playing for the Syracuse Mets (AAA).

Then, things begin to get interesting. The Brooklyn Cyclones become the new Double-A affiliate; not to be lost in all of that craziness is the fact they will be the only MLB-affiliated team in NYC. Both High-A and Low-A affiliates stay the same in St. Lucie and Columbia, respectively. The GCL Mets are finished (technically) but to be integrated into the in-house complex team.

Framework for a New MiLB

That may sound like a lot to take in right there, so let’s look at it from a broader scale. The MLB seeks more uniformity across all 30 clubs and minor league baseball as a whole.

In the simplest of terms, this proposal eliminating 42 MiLB teams and resulting in the realignment we discussed above, doesn’t stop there. By rule, each organization is only permitted four to five minor league teams – Triple-A, Double-A, High-A, Low-A, plus one complex-based Rookie affiliate. The uniformity doesn’t end there either. MLB will be restricting organizations to only 150-200 players in total within their minor league system.

Those are many major changes alone, and to be honest, mostly negative for MiLB fans. Nonetheless, a positive result of this overhaul is that franchises themselves will be forced to modernize their internal player development. MLB teams will take on a larger role in the initial training of newly acquired prospects. With the player draft moved from June to August in the proposal, signed players will report to camps immediately. There, they will undergo internal development and training before beginning their professional on-field careers the following year. That year is also when their salary would technically kick in. Those that are lucky enough to escape the training complex would require promotion to Low-A.

Front Office Issues

Not only are more than 25% of MiLB teams eliminated, but the valuations of remaining affiliated teams will decrease. That’s right, even the affiliated teams’ valuations will decrease. This presents a problem as MLB continues to push its agenda, further devaluing its assets. Valuations for MiLB teams are closely tied to PDCs, the number of teams officially affiliated with the MLB. This makes sense and is why the MiLB is more popular than independent leagues or foreign leagues.

For the past 30 years, the number of PDCs has never gone down and has only increased. After this proposal, for the first time, that number will drastically decrease to 120 guaranteed teams down from 170.

The last time this occurred, the “Professional Baseball Agreement” announced contraction in 1962 to keep the Appalachian League, Pioneer League, and New York-Penn League alive. Ironically, these three leagues would cease to exist at all, 58 years after they were saved.

In addition, ownership will face another very crucial issue going forward. Very rarely do we see so many problems from a MiLB standpoint, but they are simply bargaining chips in the larger sense. Specifically, more problems for MiLB owners and local governments. Going forward, a team planning to renovate or build a new MiLB stadium will endure a torturous process. It will be nearly impossible to obtain civic support, public investment, or even public support for stadium construction projects. MiLB teams should buckle into their current homes and get comfortable; content to have survived the cut and still have baseball.

Less Teams, Less Players, Less Money, More…?

Certainly not more baseball. Sadly, it may simply come down to more leverage for the upcoming CBA negotiations in 2022. Specifically given recent events regarding the tragic novel Coronavirus and its lasting impacts on the sports industry. The 42-team MiLB-cut was proposed prior to social distancing orders, capacity mandates at stadiums, and the revenue decreases to follow. It will be near impossible for MiLB teams to financially succeed in the post-pandemic environments and restrictions for their facilities.

The goal of more leverage for negotiations in 2022 is occurring before our very eyes. It will be debated for years if these recent developments are truly for the betterment of baseball. A crucial bargaining chip in the five vs ten-round Amateur Draft was recently decided upon simply because of the power and leverage held at the time. Regardless, the battle for more leverage has been fully underway for the already contentious upcoming negotiations with no end in sight.

A “Dream” League?

As it stands, over 40 towns and cities will be left without baseball. Stadiums left to sit empty. Not according to MLB’s plan. The MLB plans to support these ballparks with amateur tournaments, while the facilities must find a league on their own. Whether that be an independent league, a summer college league, or the proposed to-be-established, MLB-run “Dream League” for undrafted players. In a letter written to Rob Manfred, MiLB rebutted the likelihood of this league:

For these reasons, MiLB believes that MLB should stop promoting this “Dream League” concept, which serves no purpose other than to provide false hope to communities that will most certainly suffer the loss of their professional teams.

The limitations and restrictions of this proposal are ultimately placing MLB franchises and their MiLB teams in difficult positions to succeed (both on the field and financially). We were already going to be preparing for a new normal. Now, we will be preparing for an entirely different league structure, along with a new normal. This is no minor change, and one with major ramifications. However, we’ll save that conversation for another day as we’ve only breached the surface of these crucial upcoming negotiations.

The Mets Shuffle

Circling back to how the New York Mets’ affiliates will be shuffled, there are a number of pros and cons. Obviously, the loss of baseball in more than 40+ towns and cities is a travesty. Reducing the number of leagues, teams, and players in MiLB are all unfortunate realities that we must accept. The new normal. The lasting impacts of the novel Coronavirus and new normal will cause drastic revenue losses for teams. So drastic as to result in survival concerns, bankruptcies, and other issues, specifically for previously financially-strapped teams. Keeping in mind, these are official MLB-affiliated teams set to struggle.

As for our New York Mets affiliates, newly acquired Syracuse is likely to develop into a long-term relationship. Redevelopment projects at the stadium in Syracuse are already underway and will provide a future home for the Syracuse Mets for years to come. Also giving us a great rivalry in the Northeast with the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders.

The move to Double-A is the most intriguing of them all. The official seating capacity at the Brooklyn Cyclones current venue, MCU Park, is 7,000. The Cyclones then sell 2,500 standing-room-only tickets on top of that. The most recent renovations to MCU Park came in 2013 after Hurricane Sandy damaged the playing field. It could use some improvements for a Double-A park, but in the eyes of MLB, it likely seems do-able.

High-A St. Lucie and Low-A Columbia will remain the same, and then our in-house complex Rookie team. Teams would likely continue to participate in the Dominican Summer League. The proposal has not put any mandates on leagues outside of the USA. We’ll hope the Mets continue to stick with two DSL teams, but how these players will affect the overall 150-200 roster limit is still unclear.

The Road Ahead (and a look back):

This story is only just beginning. However, one chapter looks complete, and that’s in whom we can say goodbye to.

In Part Two of this series, we will take a look at some of the sad goodbye’s that will be in order. We’ll review some of the best moments each affiliate has provided us throughout countless years of minor league action and the players that have come through each town.

We’ll take a look at you, the loyal fans. If you have a personal story regarding any of the teams most affected, I’d love to hear them!

We’ll look at some of the most famous player appearances and their time spent in the minors. The players we got to know well in Kingsport, Binghamton, and Brooklyn.

For some of the current prospects, they’ll be headed to “The Big Apple” – well, Double-A in Brooklyn at least. For others, they’ll be holding out hope that the New York Mets maintain their player rights. Those not so lucky will be holding out hope for the “Dream League” as they become unemployed amateur baseball players.

One thing is for sure, the Road to Queens just became much more difficult for many players. Part Two to come soon. Please reach out with any favorite, personal memories of Kingsport, Binghamton, and Brooklyn – we’d love to hear from you, the fans. Thank you!

1 Comment

  1. “Aspects such as a shrinking population and fewer income opportunities, allowed Binghamton to hit the chopping block fairly easily for MLB.” Those factors, and the weather, do play a role in attendance figures. But there a many ardent Mets fans in the area, since 1962 and 1992 when Binghamton became a Met franchise. That loyalty isn’t always just reflected in turnstyle numbers. But what is reflected, perfectly illustrated is the nature of MLB, pro sports in general. It is not about the fans or communities, it’s about money. Fans love the game, leagues love the money. Baseball, apple pie and Mom’s purse, Dad’s wallet, the kid’s piggy bank. So it’s easy for MLB to kick Binghamton when it’s down, nothin’ personal, strictly business. But it is a personal attack on the quality of life in a community that needs as much of that as it can get. Alienating a community of 200.000 or the other 41 communities that are being abandoned mean nothing. Outrage expressed through emails, letters, burning jerseys and boycotts of attending or watching games or purchasing merchandise won’t mean anything either. But with the corruption evidenced by the cheating and the complicity of the league in mishandling that corruption, maybe it is not the best time for MLB to alienate anyone. Actually, on second thought maybe MLB is doing Binghamton a favor. Huh…

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