A move of two teams from the California League to the Carolina League, once given up for dead, is surprisingly viable, as there may be an alignment of teams and markets — and the specifics will surprise you.
First off: we’ve seen two viable markets emerge in the Carolina League footprint, along with viable owners. Everyone knows about one: Kinston Indians owner Cam McRae has publicly stated he’s working on a plan to bring affiliated ball back to Grainger Stadum. You know the backstory: McRae sold the team to Steve Bryant and crew, who will move it to Five County Stadium in Zebulon in 2012, with the Southern League team relocating to Pensacola.
There’s another market in play: we’re told Mandalay Baseball has been quietly meeting with Wilmington, N.C. officials about the prospects of a new ballpark there. It’s considered to be a good market, officials there would like to see affiliated ball return, and the Carolina League is one of the few leagues not hosting a Mandalay team.
So that gives us two viable markets with real owners.
Second, there may be two teams available in the California League — but it’s not the teams rumored to be available in previous discussions. There’s a very strong chance the Bakersfield Blaze will be staying in Bakersfield; we’re told there’s a deal in the works that would have the team sold to local buyers, who will then spend $20 million on a new privately financed ballpark. Attempts at public funding of a replacement for Sam Lynn Ballpark have faltered in the past, and given the financial problems in California, public funding may be a long shot at best. If the deal happens, it’s expected to happen this month.
The same public-funding issues could affect a new ballpark in Chico, where officials have been negotiating a deal with the High Desert Mavericks. Both sides were pleased with where things were headed, but a deal for a ballpark-funding deal couldn’t be completed before the state of California began its assault on redevelopment funds. And while there’s a chance the city could put together an alternative form of funding, a new ballpark there, too, is a long-shot.
In addition, we hear there’s one additional owner who would entertain an offer for his team.
It would not be cheap for anyone to buy a Cal League team: based on the pending Bakersfield transaction, the asking price is expected to be $7 million.
To the best of our knowledge, there’s been no offers made to any Cal League owners and no firm commitments in Carolina League territory, so much of this is conjecture, but informed conjecture that’s going around in Minor League Baseball owner’s suites. It’s come up rather suddenly, over the course of the last few weeks. And where there’s fire, there’s smoke.
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