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Cal/Carolina League shift back in play?

Minor League Baseball logoWith a Salinas ballpark deal on life support and the near impossibility of building new ballparks in California, talk of a two-team shift from the California League to the Carolina League is back.

There’s a long back story here. We need to go back several years, when Gov. Jerry Brown and the California State Legislature abolished every community redevelopment agency in the state and reclaimed all development funds. Without any tools for investing in ballparks and the entire state still operating under a financial cloud (though things seem to be better as of the last year or so), cities haven’t the ability to finance or fund new ballparks. Private investors haven’t been able to pick up the slack, as the city of Salinas has found in working on a new-ballpark proposal for the Bakersfield Blaze (High Class A; California League). The city missed a deadline to submit a ballpark proposal to the team and Minor League Baseball, and although officials say they’ll have one shortly, talk is that no one really expects the Blaze to end up in Salinas, despite best efforts from owner Dave Elmore on a ballpark plan that would include other retail and hotel development.

All of this is leading to renewed talk about a move of the Blaze and the High Desert Mavericks from the Cal League to the Carolina League. There are certainly more open markets in the Carolina League footprint (and a little beyond) than possible in the Cal League footprint, and it seems a better plan to expand the Carolina League to 10 teams and shrink the Cal League to eight. When the sale of the Wilmington Blue Rocks to the Texas Rangers comes down for the 2017 season and the team moves to Kinston — where city officials plan to pitch ballpark improvements to keep the team — there still will be other cities mulling new ballparks. We’ve already covered Fayetteville, N.C., where new-ballpark talk is surfacing. Savannah will be an open market with the loss of the Sand Gnats next season (it’s less than hours from Myrtle Beach), and there have been efforts to bring affiliated ball to Macon/Warner Robins in recent years. (The Atlanta Braves certainly want to be in the Carolina League as owner; they had option to buy Lynchburg in an attempted Wilmington move, and they’d be triumphant heroes returning to Macon.) With Wilmington slated to leave the league, a southward shift is definitely doable, with Frederick and Potomac at the northern tip of the league.

Mind you, this is just talk among owners, and the talk has surfaced before. But unless something changes with how California invests in public facilities, we expect to hear increased chatter on the topic: MLB teams want to be in the Carolina League so bad they’re willing to buy available teams, and where there’s a market there’s a way.

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