According to a recent article in Baseball America, the High-A California League might be losing a couple of teams. And their loss will be the Carolina League’s gain.
The franchises in question are the Bakersfield Blaze (Rangers) and the High Desert Mavericks (Mariners). Both teams play in antiquated ballparks and struggle to draw enough fans. The article suggests that the Braves’ decision to pull their AAA affiliate out of Richmond might have provided the perfect opening for the transcontinental migration.
Richmond is the hot market available in the minor leagues, with plans for the Braves and the International League to release the territory when the R-Braves move to Gwinnett County in surburban Atlanta. One source said High Desert had the inside track to moving to Richmond, and that Bakersfield would end up in Fayetteville, N.C.; another source said more markets within the Carolina League footprint were under consideration.
“Nothing is set in stone, but do I think it is going to happen? Yes, I think it is going to happen,” one source said. “And I think it should happen.”
Further complicating matters for the California League is the decision by the Red Sox to move their high-A club from the geographically nonsensical Lancaster outpost of the California League to the slightly more distant, but less travel-intensive Salem, VA market in the Carolina League.
Some sources say that the league already has a deal in principle, which MiLB denies. The Carolina League bylaws stipulate a $1.5 million payment for each club that wishes to enter what is currently an eight-team league with a tight geographical locus.
As a resident of central Virginia, all of this sounds good to me, though I can’t imagine that a single-A franchise is the long-term solution in Richmond. I do feel bad for the California League, but the refusal of some localities to upgrade facilities is the sort of thing that MiLB just won’t abide any more. The Bus Leagues are getting tonier by the minute.