Though Dave St. Peter and Derek Sharrer said there are reasons to discuss a future affiliation between the Minnesota Twins and St. Paul Saints, there are millions -- and maybe tens of millions -- of reasons why that will never happen.
It makes for a good story: the two were on a panel together at a Twin Cities event and spoke of the possibility of the Saints ownership dumping their independent American Association franchise and acquiring a new Low Class A Midwest League franchise. Twins President St. Peter was hopeful:
"Long-term, there are aspects that make a lot of sense," St. Peter said. "Short-term, it's more challenging. We have a tremendous partnership with Cedar Rapids and the Kernels. It's been a home run for the Twins. It's been strategic for the Twins relative to marketing in the state of Iowa."
To his credit, Saints GM Sharrer was tempered in his enthusiasm: "There's some excitement when you think about the possibility," Sharrer said. "It's certainly not that it couldn't ever happen, but ... it is a lot of moving parts."
Millions of moving parts, as in the money that would need to be spent to make it happen. First, there's the cost of acquiring a Class A franchise. Currently there are none available in the Midwest League (except, of course, the Dayton Dragons, which will end up being sold for $35 million or so and bound to the city), though we expect one with no lease issues to be put on the market in the next few years. The Midwest League has a mighty large footprint -- from Appleton, Wis. to Cleveland, Ohio to Bowling Green, Kentucky to Davenport, Iowa -- and there are potential owners from other cities within that footprint also seeking Class A ball. That's going to drive up the price of a franchise, and it's a fairly safe bet any team would cost between $7 million and $8 million.
Then there's the issue of moving a team far outside the footprint. Now, the Midwest League plays divisional schedules, so you're not looking at trips to Cleveland to play the Lake County Captains or Kentucky to play the Bowling Green Hot Rods. But you're still extending the West Division by 245 miles (the closest franchise: the Cedar Rapids Kernels, the Twins' current affiliate). The next-closest team, the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, play some 274 miles away. You're talking about some long bus rides just to get to the edge of the current footprint.
Then are the additional financials of adding April and early May dates to the Saints schedule. Right now the independent American Association starts fairly late in the spring to avoid the springtime cold weather experienced by Midwest and Canadian teams. Target Field was built for the cold weather with lots of heated areas inside and out; the new Saints ballpark is not. Now, there's no saying you could do some weatherization for fan comfort, but that's another added cost.
Finally, there's the issue of whether the Saints' new ballpark is indeed built for affiliated baseball. Nick Halter seems to think so, but we're not sure. Affiliated standards cover a lot more than just the number of seats; they cover things like clubhouse sizes; indoor facilities like pitching cages, batting tunnels and weight rooms; the number of bathrooms and urinals, etc. We're guessing that the new Saints ballpark, which was designed for indy ball, doesn't strictly meet MiLB standards. To add these sorts of features isn't impossible, but someone would need to pay for them.
It makes a great story to think about a Saints-Twins day-night doubleheader and traveling to the two ballparks via light rail. And it doesn't cost anything to dream. But the numbers are staggering when you consider what it would take for the Saints to switch to affiliated ball -- mostly for the rights to play more April night games.
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