Swapping Mets for Blue Jays still a step in right direction for Bisons - The Buffalo News

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Swapping Mets for Blue Jays still a step in right direction for Bisons

With the Bisons falling out of the International League playoff race, this corner is getting plenty of questions about the change of affiliation from the Mets to the Blue Jays in the last couple of weeks. And the second-guessing comes mostly from Buffalo fans — and from the requisite online loudmouths from Queens — who have taken a look at the Pacific Coast League standings.

While the injury bug in Toronto ruined the roster in Buffalo, the Las Vegas 51s are roaring to the finish in the PCL’s Southern Division. Managed by ex-Buffalo skipper Wally Backman, the new Mets affiliate entered the weekend at 74-57 with a 1ø-game lead over Sacramento. The 51s were 9-1 in their last 10 games and have won five straight.

As the thinking goes, the Bisons were a bunch of dopes for dumping the Mets. After all, look at Las Vegas’ record. The Bisons would have been a first-place team here.

Please. Just stop. All of you.

No one can interpolate how the Bisons would have done this season had they stayed with the Mets. Las Vegas is in a division with Sacramento (Oakland), Tucson (San Diego) and Fresno (San Francisco). If the exact same Vegas roster was in Buffalo, there’s no way to project how the matchups would have gone in different ballparks against different major-league parents. It’s plain foolish.

The Mets’ push for the Bisons to re-sign next season was rooted in the fact they felt their farm system was improving. And it turns out they were right.

Las Vegas got great production this season from Triple-A rookie Wilmer Flores, who graduated to New York after batting .321 in Las Vegas with 15 homers and 86 RBIs in 107 games. Think he does that in the much more pitcher-friendly International League? Maybe. Maybe not. We’ll never know.

And Double-A Binghamton entered the weekend with the best record in the Eastern League (81-50) and headed to the playoffs for the first time since 2004. Another nice feather in the Mets’ cap.

But reality check here, too. The Bisons weren’t staying with the Mets after four mostly-miserable seasons. Attendance would have fallen through the floor, rather than going up by roughly 700 a game. The Bisons, in fact, have a chance to finish with their biggest per-game increase since 1990 mostly because of the increased traffic of Canadian fans.

The Blue Jays’ farm system included stud catcher Travis d’Arnaud and the likes of pitcher Noah Syndergaard. Both of them, oddly enough, ended up with the Mets in the R.A. Dickey deal. Big names like Jake Marisnick and Justin Nicolino ended up with the Marlins in the Blue Jays’ blockbuster deal with them. Marisnick is already in the big leagues while Nicolino is in Double-A after getting named Florida State League Pitcher of the Year.

So the Blue Jays the Bisons signed up with in September were not the same Blue Jays by Christmas. That happens. Through it all, the Bisons were legitimately in the playoff race into the final 20 games of the season. The Mets never came close to that in their time here.

Backman is a good manager. He told me last year several times the 2012 Bisons had a chance to be a playoff team had they not lost center fielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis and shortstop Omar Quintanilla. I always said he was overstating that case and I didn’t like how the team mail-ordered in much of August, with the notable exception of their solid effort in their one-day stint at Fenway Park against Pawtucket.

I’d like to think the Mets learned a few things from their time in Buffalo. They learned to pay more attention to their affiliates and to nurture their prospects more. The timing was simply off here.

A Mets affiliation was very good here in areas like broadcasting and merchandising. It just didn’t work on the field. The Bisons moved on. One year in the standings is no reason to second-guess it.

Jays knuckled under

Speaking of Dickey, he has one win in his last nine starts and was particularly befuddled last week after losing in Yankee Stadium, on Alfonso Soriano’s eighth-inning home run, despite throwing a complete game.

“It’s frustrating. It’s like the Twilight Zone, different day, same script,” Dickey said. “It’s really a very fluky kind of feeling. I don’t know really how to put it into verbiage. I’m really at a loss when it comes to that. I just keep telling myself, ‘Leave it all on the field’ and whatever happens is going to happen.

“I can rarely remember a season that’s been like this and the good news is that it feels like a fluke to me, meaning that the expectation is that it will change. But you’ve got to keep grinding it out, punching the clock and showing up.”

Red Sox slugger David Ortiz had a similar take on the Jays after the Sox dropped two games in Rogers Centre.

“When I saw what they put together in the offseason I was like, ‘Whoa, this is the competition.’ ” Ortiz told the Toronto Star. “In my country they started calling them ‘the Dominican Blue Jays’ and everybody was waiting for the season to start just to see what that team was going to be like — I mean the whole country. But then injuries kick in and all that stuff.”

Still, Ortiz said the Jays could pull a worst-to-first routine next year just like Boston did this year.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if next year they come back and just whoop everybody’s ass, to be honest with you,” he said. “I thought that was going to be the situation this year, I swear to God.”

Back to Montreal?

Several hundred fans staged a “Pitch and Catch Rally” last week at Jarry Park in Montreal, the original home of the Expos. Now a tennis facility, Jarry Park hosted the team from its 1969 birth until its 1977 move to Olympic Stadium.

ExposNation, a volunteer group, sponsored the rally with four former Expos appearing. The group brought about a thousand fans to a recent Blue Jays game and has started a sample season ticket drive with more than 3,500 pledges.

With the Canadian dollar much improved, you wonder if a return to Montreal might be feasible someday if things can’t get worked out in Tampa, where poor attendance and no new stadium on the horizon for the Rays has Bud Selig concerned.

Spring sites

This corner is surprised how much email comes in asking about spring training locations, especially in Florida, and there’s more news on that front.

A proposal to build a $98 million spring training complex for the Nationals in Kissimmee, Fla., was voted down by the Osceola County Commissioners last week. That leaves the Nats stuck in Viera in an isolated corner on the Atlantic coast that forces them to make many long drives for games, and they made reconsider moving to the Red Sox former home in Fort Myers, City of Palms Park.

The Astros are in an older complex in Kissimmee, near Orlando, but are reportedly working on a proposal to build a joint one in Palm Beach with the Blue Jays. The Jays have been in Dunedin, on the Gulf Coast, since 1977 but have made no secret they want a much improved facility that includes minor-league fields; their current complex is about 3 miles away.

Around the horn

• Still can’t believe the National League playoff contenders were essentially determined by mid-August. Only if someone has an epic collapse will the Braves, Dodgers, Pirates, Cardinals and Reds miss the postseason. Crazy. Still, there’s a heck of a race going on for who finishes with the best record. Any of the division winners could snag it.

• MLB Productions is debuting a new reality-style show on FOXSports1 called “Mission October”, which follows a team through its weekend and then airs the show Monday night.

• The upstart Pirates are the first subject, dealing with the cameras this weekend. The debut show airs Monday night at 7:30.

• Former Bisons slugger Mike Hessman recently crushed his 400th career home run in affiliated American baseball for Louisville in a win over Indianapolis. Hessman has 14 in the big leagues and now has 389 in the minors (including 279 in Triple-A).

The 35-year-old hit 18 homers in 64 games for the Bisons in 2010. He entered the weekend batting .231 with 23 homers and 48 RBIs as well as his requisite strikeout total of 127 whiffs in 386 at-bats.

email: mharrington@buffnews.com

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