It Takes Two to Contract: Cal League Edition

Last week, Minor League Baseball announced two huge moves within the High-A level. The California League franchises in Bakersfield and Adelanto (Bakersfield Blaze and High Desert Mavericks, respectively) will fold at the end of the 2016. Their player development contracts would not be renewed, and two new Carolina League teams would rise in Fayetteville and Kinston. That would leave the Cal League with only 8 teams, whereas the Carolina League would grow to 10. The Florida State League would stay at 12 teams, the largest of the three leagues.


Sam Lynn Ballpark entrance

Bakersfield had a plan for a privately developed ballpark a few years ago, but the financing never materialized. Next, Salinas tried to lure the team north. That too went nowhere. With no relocation sites on the horizon, Bakersfield was on the clock to replace antiquated Sam Lynn Ballpark. The LA Times’ Bill Shaikin wrote an obituary on the 75 years of baseball in Bakersfield, a city of 300,000 that also lost its NBDL (D-League) franchise earlier this year. As for the fate of the westward-facing ballpark, the city’s trying to figure that out. Bakersfield’s exit makes San Jose Municipal Stadium the oldest remaining venue in the Cal League.

In tiny Adelanto, fewer tears are being shed over the Mavericks. The city even went to the lengths of threatening to evict the team over tensions related to the Mavericks’ onerous $1-a-year stadium lease. Instead, they made a deal with the San Bernardino County Fair to reuse Mavericks Stadium, a facility that opened in 1991. 25 years? It’s been a good – albeit sparsely attended – run.

It’s important to note that these contractions and expansions would not have been possible if not for both teams being in dire straits. No avenues remained in California, with Salinas fizzling out and Chico seemingly satisfied for now with independent ball. The serial, everyday scheduling of baseball makes it impractical to contract only a single team. Whether we’re talking the California League or the American League, it would take two teams to contract. And in the American League, that’s a payout that could reach $1.5 billion, though it should be noted that contraction is not in the cards for the next round of CBA negotiations.

Baseball America’s podcast last week covered the Bakersfield/High Desert contractions in great detail, with hosts John Manuel and J.J. Cooper talking about what ailed the markets, along with the issues facing California in general – including our own Oakland Athletics. It’s worth a listen.

7 thoughts on “It Takes Two to Contract: Cal League Edition

  1. This is kind of a microcosm of how difficult it is to build anything new and large in California these days for non-coastal wealthy markets, especially in the wake of redevelopment’s demise. Chico would have been a nice setting for a new park – good town, close enough to Stockton, San Jose and the Central Valley to be reached by bus every third or fourth day.

    I’m wondering if the Cal League could look to expand somewhere in the Central Coast? I’ve always thought that SLO, Santa Barbara, Monterey and/or somewhere like Paso Robles could make a new venue work. Plenty of land and money in those locations, wealthier than the interior cities, growing at a steady rate.

    I’d love to see a pivot back to the Cal League in a few years, with new franchises in Chico and SLO/Santa Barbara. Then you get back to 10-team, 2-division (north/south) alignment: Chico, Stockton, San Jose and Visalia in the north; SLO/SB, Lancaster, Inland Empire, Rancho and Lake Elsinore in the South.

  2. You’re proposing some really small markets here. Chico’s only 85,000 with a metro of 210,000, SLO is 45,000 with Paso Robles bringing 30,000 (I can’t find a metro area designation but the county is 270,000 and spread out), and Santa Barbara is 90,000 with a metro of 220,000. Much smaller than any Cal League metros, and any cities except Lake Elsinore.

    Monterey would be too small, but Salinas would be a possibility despite being poor. I’m sure if the city built a nice new stadium they could get a team (much like Bakersfield would still have one). And there’s the rub.

    • Hmmm…I guess you’re probably right about SLO and SB. Despite their relative affluence, both also have D1 college baseball programs, so it’s possible there would also be reluctance from the community in terms of avoiding cannibalization of those programs.

      Chico has a long history of independent league and some minor league baseball affiliation. It’s a relatively small metro for sure, but I think they could support a Class A team. Paso is an interesting case…I’ve spent a lot of time there through the years. A really small town, but a burgeoning tourism industry without a lot to do at night (the downtown is nice, but mostly just bars/restaurants). A club there could probably garner some interest over a wide swath of area.

      I have a hard time seeing Salinas being able to compete against more well-heeled/savvy locales. The owner of the Bakersfield Blaze twice tried to put something together with local Salinas interests and was willing to invest something like $15 to $17 million for a new stadium/entertainment complex. Both times, he was rebuffed. And that guy was pretty desperate, seeing as how the franchise is now being kind of forced to move across the country.

      Another area that might work: Santa Rosa/North Bay. There have been indy ball teams there for awhile now, but seems ripe for affiliated ball.

  3. No surprise, there were rumors about this in Spring training.

    They’re keeping the two division format, meaning you’ll play your division rivals (ex-San Jose v. Stockton) 27 times instead of the current 18.

    It’s difficult to imagine a realistic scenario where the Cal League has two viable markets with ready-to-go stadiums that could poach teams from the other high A leagues. Far easier and realistic for a single in-state city to move a current team.

    Nobody wants Lancaster as their affiliate:

    • Between the altitude and heat, Lancaster’s pretty awful for both player development and getting an accurate view of your players.

    • Also, since that article the D’backs and Visalia have extended until 2018. So it looks like the Cal League is set going forward:

      Stockton (A’s)
      Modesto (Mariners who now own the club)
      San Jose (Giants)
      Visalia (D’backs)

      Lancaster (Rockies are the odd man out that gets stuck there-don’t know if they’ve signed yet though)
      Inland Empire (Angels)
      Rancho Cucamonga (Dodgers
      Lake Elsinore (Padres)

      Rangers and Astros move to the Carolina League.

  4. Has the Modesto Nuts sale actually gone through? They are still listed on their own website and on the MiLB website as Colorado affiliates. Maybe it’s effective at the end of the season though.

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