Down East Sold, Moving
A month ago, the Rangers announced the impending sale of the Hickory Crawdads to Diamond Baseball Holdings. Yesterday, the parties consummated the sales of the the ‘Dads and Down East Wood Ducks. Soon after, a rumored relocation of the Woodies to Spartanburg, South Carolina (which I’d mentioned last week) became an actual plan. The intention is to commence play in 2025 in a stadium to be constructed on a vacant site downtown. It will, of course, be part of a multifaceted entertainment/commercial/housing complex. The ballpark would hold 3,500. Apparently, MLB has already approved the process. Unlike so many moves of yore (“South Atlantic” teams in New Jersey, western Kentucky, northern Ohio), relocation to Spartanburg doesn’t create a scheduling headache. Spartanburg could conceivably rejoin high-A, creating a rival just down the road in Greenville, and Hickory would fit comfortably in the low-A Carolina League if desired. Internally, the move benefits the Rangers as the drive between affiliations drops from four hours to 90 minutes.
The timing of the announcement surprised me but not the message itself. Nothing at all against the good folks in Kinston, but the marriage between the city and Rangers always struck me as asymmetric. Kinston was in love again after losing its team in 2011; the Rangers wanted a green card that would allow them to stay in the Carolinas. In 2015-2016, the Rangers desperately wanted out of Adelanto. Kinston had a stadium that could be brought to standards in short order. Also, Texas’s ownership of the team precluded the possibility of losing the affiliation in two years.
Both sides were happy, but unfortunately, minor league baseball in Kinston as an investment made less sense (although, admittedly, I’m not privy to the books). The city has about 20,000 residents, the county around 50,000, so the market is roughly equivalent in size to Corsicana, Texas. It isn’t near another metropolis and has steadily lost population. An effort at regional branding (“Down East”) didn’t change the number of people within driving range of the stadium and irked some locals. With a population of 38,500, Spartanburg proper isn’t what you’d call large (smaller than Hickory, in fact!), but it has recently reversed decades of decline, and the county has grown steadily to nearly 350,000. Once MLB asserted its dominance over the minor league system, the incentive for club ownership diminished, but the capital and managerial requirements intensified, thus the gobbling up of so many teams by DBH. (Incidentally, had Down East not been club-owned in 2020, I’d have placed its likelihood of contraction as virtually certain. And DBH’s broad investment and stature probably insulates it from further contraction.)
The Rangers do have a lease with Kinston through 2031. Can they break it? With the caveat that I am not a lawyer, the terms seem generous in that regard. I don’t see anything granting Kinston the power to compel the Rangers to provide a team. In case of default, Kinston can avail itself to the laws of North Carolina (not enumerated in the document) and/or terminate the lease, the latter of which simply accelerates the modest annual rental payments owed. Furthermore, invoking a low-attendance clause or provision of a replacement team could reduce default payments to zero. The apparent ease with which the Rangers can depart helps to explain why they signed such a long lease in the first place.
Kinston might be better off in the long run. In light of MLB’s new facility requirements, the City of Asheville and Buncombe County have agreed to pony up at least $30 million on renovations to historic McCormick Field. Some of that money is beyond just baseball, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Kinston’s 74-year-old Grainger Stadium is in need of renovations well beyond what the city has already undertaken. Can Kinston’s taxpayers make that kind of commitment, and even if so, should they? As for the fans who will be losing a team for the second time in 15 years, well… I don’t know. They didn’t do anything wrong and deserve better.
A Bunch Of Players, Moving
To Round Rock:
C/DH Mitch Garver and OF Travis Jankowski (rehab)
RHP Marc Church (up from Round Rock)
LHP Juan Mejia (down fro Round Rock)
RHP Dane Acker (off IL)
RHP Emiliano Teodo (off IL)
C Tucker Mitchell (up from Down East)
1B/OF Abimelec Ortiz (up from Down East)
To Down East:
RHP Nick Lockhart (first assignment of season)
RHP Jacob Maton (down from Hickory)
RHP Wyatt Sparks (down from Hickory)
C Konnor Piotto (down from Hickory)
IF Yenci Pena (down from Hickory)
AAA: Round Rock 4, at Albuquerque (COL) 13
Round Rock: 8 hits, 3 walks, 7 strikeouts
Opponent: 16 hits, 4 walks, 5 strikeouts
Record: 24-21, 9.5 GB
SP Kyle Cody: 3.1 IP, 8 H (1 HR), 6 R, 1 BB, 2 SO, 54 P / 39 S, 7.84 ERA
RP Tyler Zombro: 1.2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 1 SO, 0.00 ERA
SS Davis Wendzel: 2-3, HR (5), .221/.342/.405
Rehabbing Mitch Garver doubled twice in four trips to the plate as DH, and CF Travis Jankowski was 0-3.
Grant Wolfram (10 batters, 7 hits, 7 runs) joined the Express two weeks ago but discovered you haven’t really pitched in the Pacific Coast league until you’ve pitched at altitude.
Tyler Zombro made his Round Rock debut. He throws an upper-80s sinker and a slider, per Statcast.
AA: Frisco 2, at Arkansas (SEA) 1
Frisco: 4 hits, 5 walks, 11 strikeouts
Opponent: 3 hits, 9 walks, 15 strikeouts
Record: 18-21, 3.5 GB
SP Jack Leiter: 4 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 7 BB, 1 HBP, 4 SO, 91 P / 44 S, 4.17 ERA
RP Nick Starr: 2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 3 SO, 6.97 ERA
RP Theo McDowell: 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 2 SO, 3.50 ERA
RP Alex Speas: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 3 SO, 1.26 ERA
RP Antoine Kelly: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 3 SO, 1.80 ERA
SS Luisangel Acuna: 1-3, BB, SB (18), .309/.379/.444
2B Thomas Saggese: 1-2, 2B, BB, HBP, .299/.353/.435
Jack Leiter’s renaissance ended, if temporarily, at three games. Leiter walked the bases loaded to open the game and went 2-0 to the cleanup hitter, but the Travelers swung at the next four pitches, resulting in a sac fly and grounded double play. After a period of unsteady if acceptable control, Leiter walked three of his last five opponents before departing. This wasn’t pretty, but Leiter did at least keep the situation in hand. Hope for better next time.
Nick Starr stranded two of Leiter’s runners. He and three others combined to shut down the Travs.
Hi-A: Hickory 6, Asheville (HOU) 3
Hickory: 8 hits, 2 walks, 7 strikeouts
Opponent: 5 hits, 6 walks, 10 strikeouts
Record: 14-24, 9 GB
SP Winston Santos: 5.2 IP, 5 H (1 HR), 3 R, 3 BB, 1 HBP, 6 SO, 85 P / 49 S, 5.35 ERA
SS Max Acosta: 1-3, 2B, BB, .282/.341/.435
DH Tucker Mitchell: 1-2, 2B, BB
1B Abi Ortiz: 1-4, HR (1)
Newcomers Abimelec Ortiz and Tucker Mitchell made a splash. Winston Santos has a nice walk rate (6.6%) undermined by an otherworldly HBP rate (5.3%). He’s hit eight batters in his last six starts.
Lo-A: Down East 9, at Carolina (MIL) 5
Down East: 12 hits, 5 walks, 7 strikeouts
Opponent: 9 hits, 5 walks, 14 strikeouts
Record: 22-16, 0.5 G up
SP Dylan McCarty: 3.2 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 3 BB, 6 SO, 77 P / 47 S, 1.54 ERA
RP Jackson Leath: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 1 SO, 2.19 ERA
CF Anthony Gutierrez: 2-5, .256/.310/.316
RF Yeison Morrobel: 2-4, BB, .250/.377/.295
2B Cam Cauley: 3-4, 2B, BB, 2 SB (10), .248/.306/.389
3B Gleider Figuereo: 3-4, HR (3), BB, .216/.331/.333
I hadn’t mentioned Anthony Gutierrez in a while. He had his first multi-hit game in almost two weeks, during which time he batted .148/.226/.185. In his second tilt at low-A pitching, Cam Cauley is walking less but hitting for better average and power.
Five Years Ago Yesterday
Down East’s Jonathan Hernandez struck out ten in six scoreless innings. Leody Taveras drew three walks.