Rooting for Laundry

Banking on 300,000

Two weeks ago, we examined the surge in attendance so far this season and noted that if the bump typically associated with warmer summer months holds true, the Senators could actually break their single-season record and even top 300,000 spectators for the year. Every week in this post, we’ll begin following where the Senators stand in hopefully this record-breaking season.

Through 34 home games (and with 37 left to play) as of June 20th, the Senators are 45.9% of the way towards the magic 300,000 number.

Rooting for Laundry

The Senators have been affiliated with the Expos/Nationals for the last 20 years…is that about to change? Unfortunately, change seems inevitable in the near future for the Senators.

In a column from Saturday’s Patriot-News, Geoff Morrow examined the very real possibility that the Nationals would look to move their Double-A operations after this season to Richmond in an effort to expand their fanbase in southern Virginia.

The Senators’ player development contract with the parent Washington Nationals expires at the end of the season.

And while Harrisburg has been the Class AA affiliate of the Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals since 1991, that deal might end soon.

Now that Richmond fields a team in the Eastern League, it’s a solid possibility the Nationals will choose to align themselves with the Flying Squirrels beginning in 2011.

Nationals president Stan Kasten served in the same capacity with the Atlanta Braves when their Class AAA affiliate was stationed in Richmond, and it’s no secret the Nats would welcome the opportunity to spread their wings through southern Virginia.

Richmond’s player development contract with the San Francisco Giants also ends after this season, so it make sense.

If this becomes a reality, where would Harrisburg turn? What dominoes could fall next if Richmond becomes the new Double-A home of the Nationals?

I’ve looked at the landscape of expiring Player Development Contracts (PDC) and here’s my take on the options moving forward:

The Long Shots

Birmingham Barons (White Sox) – Even though the Barons have been affiliated with the White Sox and are a mainstay in Alabama since 1986, this option is intriguing because of the father-son relationship of the Reinsdorfs in both ownership groups. Birmingham would have to do a lot wrong to lose the Barons even if nepotism becomes a factor in the decision.

Carolina Mudcats (Reds) – I’ve been to Five County Stadium and although it’s relatively close to Raleigh, it still feels like it’s out in the middle of nowhere. Attendance figures and distance away from Cincinnati are roughly the same as they would be for Harrisburg, so the Reds wouldn’t be really gaining anything by this lateral move. Also, can the mix of Nittany Lion Country and Pittsburgh Yinzers in the midstate really support a team affiliated with Ohio?

Bowie Baysox (Orioles) – The only reason Bowie made the final cut on this list is geographically we are just a short drive up I-83 from Baltimore and the Orioles’ brass may want to extend their potential fanbase farther north into Central PA. However, even with the middling attendance figures, I can’t see the Orioles’ organization cutting ties with a team they’ve been affiliated with since their inception in 1993.

Filling Out the Field

Binghamton Mets (Mets) – Perpetually in the bottom half of the Eastern League for attendance over the last 17 seasons, Binghamton appears to be a team that is ripe for a change of scenery. Their home park of NYSEG Stadium has been in use since 1992 and isn’t helping draw and retain a steady customer base. With the animosity between the Mets and Phillies, the Harrisburg ballclub would need to be pretty concerned to agree with this affiliation and risk upsetting potential fans.

Erie SeaWolves (Tigers) – Sure, Harrisburg is over twice the distance from Detroit than Erie, but Erie is currently dead last in the Eastern League for attendance per game (around 2,400) and they may need to generate more clicks on the turnstiles to justify their standing in the Tigers’ organization. Much like Binghamton, Erie has also been in the bottom half of the EL’s attendance figures since joining the league in 1999.

The Dark Horses

Las Vegas 51s (Blue Jays AAA) – After years of Dodgers and Padres affiliation, Las Vegas welcomed Toronto to a two-year deal after they severed ties with Syracuse following the 2008 season. Toronto must have been pretty desperate since this doesn’t seem geographically logical to anyone. Even with the upgrades to Metro Bank Park, I have a hard time picturing Harrisburg as an AAA-level facility. But Las Vegas only drew 4,752 fans per game last year, so we’re not that far off and Toronto might be willing to overlook that fact in exchange for the closer proximity.

Staying in Harrisburg – If Washington is dead set on adding Richmond into the Nationals’ fold they could potentially add them as their AAA team replacing the expiring contract of Syracuse while maintaining Harrisburg as their Double-A affiliate.

The Favorites

Richmond Flying Squirrels (Giants) – If the Nationals come to an agreement with Richmond as their Double-A team, the easy route for Harrisburg would be to hook up with the Giants in a literal swap of affiliations. It seems crazy to me to have a West Coast major league team with an East Coast minor league team, but the Giants have been seemingly happy with this arrangement for the last seven seasons.

Staying in Harrisburg – Another option is Washington could sign another 2-year deal with Harrisburg while the Nationals use that time to plan a move with other possibilities. However if Lerner really wants Richmond under the Nats’ umbrella, now may be the best time as the stars are aligning for a move after this season.

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