Two days before Opening Day at Coca-Cola Field, the Buffalo Bisons and Toronto Blue Jays announced a two-year extension of their player development contract through the 2018 season.
The agreement was scheduled to expire after this season and the extension was expected throughout baseball circles, with new Toronto President Mark Shapiro saying Friday night prior to Toronto’s home opener “all the reasons are there to continue that relationship.”
“The support we’ve received from the Blue Jays’ player development and front office staffs has been everything we thought it would be and more when we began this partnership four years ago,” Bisons Vice President/General Manager Mike Buczkowski said in a joint statement. “It has truly been a partnership in every sense of the word and we’re looking forward to continued success in growing the baseball corridor from Western New York to the Greater Toronto area.”
The Blue Jays and Bisons first aligned for the 2013 season after Buffalo jettisoned its affiliation with the New York Mets, and the 90-minute drive between Toronto and Buffalo has become a huge convenience for players and front office executives on both sides.
Minor-league PDCs come up for renewal at the end of even-numbered seasons, and teams can sign two- or four-year extensions. The Bisons have long preferred two-year deals to keep their major-league parents on their toes when it comes to restocking the farm.
The Bisons currently have the longest playoff drought in the International League, having not appeared in the postseason since 2005, but are invigorated by the presence of Shapiro. He was the farm director, assistant GM and the GM of the Cleveland Indians when Buffalo went to the playoffs nine times in 11 years from 1995-2005 and won three league championships while an affiliate of the Tribe.
“We are excited to extend our PDC but more importantly our relationship with the Bisons. The most productive player development relationships are built upon two aligned organizations,” Shapiro said in the statement. “We are appreciative of the dynamic in Buffalo and feel that because of the Rich family, the exceptional front office and support of a great city there is no one we would rather be affiliated with.”
After a long run in Syracuse, the Blue Jays had their Triple-A affiliate in Las Vegas from 2009-2012 and were eager to get back into the International League when the Bisons opted against extending their deal with the Mets.
“When the team was out in Vegas, my understanding was that was a pain,” Jays manager John Gibbons told reporters prior to Tuesday’s game against the New York Yankees. “Now we can hold off on a move until the very end and they can just hop in a car and come up here. And we’ve hit them pretty hard the last couple years, that’s for sure. It’s a huge benefit to us.”
In the first three seasons with the Blue Jays, the Bisons have won 219 games, their most in a three-year span since winning 220 from 2005-2007. The Herd has produced seven International League midseason All-Stars and four postseason All-Stars, including 2015 International League MVP Matt Hague.
Several Bisons have graduated to Toronto and played key roles for the Blue Jays, notably 2014 Buffalo MVP Kevin Pillar, Ryan Goins, Chris Colabello, Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez. There were 12 players on the Blue Jays’ postseason roster last year who had previously appeared for the Herd in Coca-Cola Field.
The Bisons’ paid attendance last season of 551,303 was their best since 2010, and their per-game averages in 2013 (8,273) and 2015 (8,228) were the highest since the Indians left for Columbus following the 2008 season. The team says it has seen double-digit Canadian fan growth as a Blue Jays affiliate when tracking ticket and merchandising sales and Web traffic. Radio broadcasts of several games each year appear on Toronto’s all-sports giant, The FAN 590, and Buffalo team updates, ticket information and merchandise are often available at Rogers Centre.
The Bisons open their home schedule Thursday at 2:05 against Rochester and Shapiro is scheduled to be on hand. Hall of Famer Roberto Alomar, a core member of Toronto’s 1992 and 1993 World Series teams, will throw the ceremonial first pitch.