2012 will mark the end of Toronto’s current contract with the Las Vegas 51’s of the Pacific Coast League. Forced with not having another option at the time, Toronto selected the Las Vegas franchise as their home for AAA baseball following the team’s departure from Syracuse in 2008.
At the time of the move the Blue Jays had what many considered a weak farm system and it was reflected in the AAA team’s record over the years. In Syracuse, the Skychiefs had failed to obtain a Division Championship since 1989 and a League title hadn’t been won since 1976, a year prior to the city adopting the expansion Blue Jays as their AAA suitors.
(The 1989 Chiefs line up would include future Jays in Glenallan Hill, Luis Sojo, Todd Stottlemyre and Ed Sprague to name a few)
Attendance was beginning to fade and had fallen from 446,025 in 1999, when the team featured a 20 year old Vernon Wells, to 392,038 by 2008. A season highlighted by top prospect Russ Adams.
Understandably, the Skychiefs ownership and fan base had grown tired of losing seasons and when the Washington Nationals came looking for a city to host their AAA club, team owner Anthony Simone welcomed the Nats with open arms.
2013 finds the New York Mets in the same situation as the 2008 Blue Jays. Mintorleagueball.com ranks the Mets Farm system (2012) at 15th in the Majors. Ironically they are 1 position under the same Washington Nationals that snagged the Syracuse franchise from the Jays in 2008.
Toronto checks in at number 1 on that list.
Bisons owner Bob Rich Jr has been vocal about his desire to bring a championship caliber team back to Buffalo and reports indicate that he no longer believes the New York Mets can achieve this task within his timeframe.
With the AAA contracts of both the Blue Jays and Mets set to expire following the 2012 season, the transition from Las Vegas to Buffalo seems all too perfect for Toronto and a return to the International League will serve the team well.
Since joining the PCL,Toronto has opted to call up a number of pitchers directly from AA New Hampshire, skipping Vegas altogether en route to making their Major League Debut.
Shielding such arms as Kyle Drabek, Joel Carreno and Aaron Loup from the rigors of pitching in the PCL has made a clear statement in regards to how the Toronto brass feels about exposing their young talent to the league.
The general consensus around baseball is that you can get a truer read on a player’s talent when he is playing outside of the small, rock hard infields and thin air that the Pacific Coast League is known for.
Enough about the PCL.
Geographically, having a Toronto affiliate situated a few miles off the Canadian border would make perfect sense if you are an owner trying to fill the seats. Nestled in the heart of downtown Buffalo, Coca Cola Field is one of the nicest ballparks in the Minors. I suggest you check it out regardless of what happens between the Blue Jays and the Bisons.
Aside from the location, the Blue Jays organization offers some familiar faces for the Bisons faithful.
The last time Buffalo made the post season, they were managed by current 51’s field boss Marty Brown. In fact, the last time Buffalo captured a league championship was under Brown, sweeping the Richmond Braves 3-0 in the International League final.
Brown was replaced by Torey Lovullo who was at the helm of the team for the following 3 seasons, guiding the Bisons to a 75-67 mark in 2007. Lovullo is now the Blue Jays 1st Base Coach, working under team manager, John Farrell.
For now, we wait. The results of the Buffalo sweepstakes should be made public come September (end of the AAA season). Although Toronto looks like a solid fit for the Bisons, this is Baseball and in Baseball, nothing is guarnteed.