As part of Major League Baseball's new structure for the minor leagues unveiled Wednesday, four new cities will join the Triple-A ranks and the Buffalo Bisons will retain their affiliation with the Toronto Blue Jays.
The new teams in Triple-A will be in Worcester, Mass. (Boston); Sugar Land, Texas (Houston); Jacksonville (Miami); and St. Paul, Minn. (Minnesota). San Antonio and Wichita will drop to Double-A, while Fresno will either be a Class A team or leave professional baseball entirely. The Red Sox announced in 2018 they were moving their Triple-A franchise from its longtime home in Pawtucket, R.I., to Worcester.
The Rochester Red Wings will have a new parent club as the Washington Nationals move East from Fresno after the Minnesota Twins opted to leave Rochester. All other International League affiliates will have the same parent club as they were scheduled to have for the canceled 2020 season.
A league and divisional structure at each level has yet to be announced. Worcester and Jacksonville are expected to join the current grouping of International League teams, with Sugar Land and St. Paul going to the Pacific Coast League. There might be other shifts, notably Nashville joining the IL.
Each of the 30 major-league franchises will have four minor-league affiliates going forward, instead of the six or seven most had in the past. Baseball America quickly developed the full list of 119 affiliates Wednesday as teams individually announced them (one Class A California League team is yet to be determined in either Fresno or Lancaster).
The Blue Jays announced they will retain the Bisons and that Manchester, N.H., will continue to be the home of their Double-A affiliate, the New Hampshire Fisher Cats.
"We are pleased to have received an invitation to remain an affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays and we are excited about continuing our relationship with them," the Bisons said in a statement Wednesday. "We look forward to reviewing the overall Player Development License agreement with Major League Baseball to assure that the partnership works for our team, our great fans and the Western New York community. Until the agreement can be formalized, we are not able to comment further on the 2021 season.”
Like most clubs, things are changing for Toronto in Class A. Dunedin of the Florida State League will move from High-A to Short-Season A while Vancouver of the Northwest League will move to a full-season club. Vancouver is Canada's only affiliated minor-league team, although border issues make its 2021 season uncertain at this time.
"The Blue Jays value the opportunity to continue strong associations with these four franchises," the parent club said in a statement. "Foremost among them, the Blue Jays share a close affinity with the Vancouver Canadians and baseball fans in Western Canada. As this country’s only Major League Baseball team, the club takes great pride in maintaining a west coast presence, introducing future Blue Jays players to Canadian fans, and helping grow the game nationally.
"Additionally, the club looks forward to continued relationships with the Buffalo Bisons and the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, who have assisted in the development of Blue Jays players since 2013 and 2004, respectively."
Elsewhere in Class A, the Blue Jays have ceded Lansing (Mich.) of the Midwest League to Oakland and Toronto's longtime affiliate in Bluefield (W.Va.) has joined the other teams of the Appalachian League in transitioning from affiliated baseball to a college wood-bat league.
The Miami Marlins announced they will no longer have the Batavia Muckdogs as one of their affiliates. The Muckdogs are one of several New York-Penn League teams in limbo after other NY-P teams moved to full-season ball or opted to take part in the MLB Draft League for college players. The Rich Baseball Operations-owned West Virginia Black Bears will be one of the six Draft League teams.
In addition to running the Bisons and Black Bears, Rich Baseball owns the Northwest Arkansas Naturals, who will continue as Kansas City's Double-A team.
With the expiration of the Professional Baseball Agreement between the majors and minors, MLB has taken over operation of the minors and will be issuing Professional Baseball Licenses to the 120 affiliates based largely on geography and quality of facilities. Wednesday's announcement simply indicated which cities will be offered PDLs. The franchises must agree to the conditions and sign the license or it can be offered to another city. Most are expected to be rubber stamps, especially at Triple-A.