The Tri-City ValleyCats ownership is suing Major League Baseball and the Houston Astros for more than $15 million over the decision to exclude the Short Season A team from the revamped 120-team Minor League Baseball system in 2021.
The ValleyCats were part of the NY-Penn League until the reorganized 120-team system was announced in early December. The ValleyCats were not invited to remain as an Astros affiliate, and subsequently the ValleyCats joined the independent Frontier League.
In the lawsuit announced by ValleyCats chairman Doug Gladstone, his team is seeking damages based on the diminished value of what had been a National Association Minor League Baseball franchise–specifically, breach of fiduciary duty and tortious interference. But there’s no agreement between the National Association and Major League Baseball, and with MLB moving toward a totally new licensing agreement for the revamped MiLB system, that N.A. franchise has a diminished value. From the Albany Times-Union:
The sharply worded 33-page complaint accuses Major League Baseball of using “bullying” tactics to pit minor league operations against one another for survival. It notes that the Houston team announced it was continuing its affiliations with “three teams owned by the Astros and one owned by a former U.S. Senator and current Governor, likely in efforts to quell the political discord that has occurred regarding MLB’s contraction efforts” — an apparent reference to the Asheville, N.C., Tourists, a team owned by the family of Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine.
The ValleyCats are represented in the legal action by the same two law firms — Weil, Gotshal & Manges and Berg & Androphy — that are handling a similar suit brought by another recently disaffiliated minor league team, the Staten Island Yankees, against MLB and the New York Yankees.
“To make matters worse, in 2019, Defendants had publicly released a list of the teams that would remain affiliated with MLB, which included the ValleyCats, and made other public statements that the ValleyCats would be included,” the lawsuit states. “The ValleyCats materially relied on these public disclosures, which Defendants reneged on at the eleventh hour, by making substantial improvements to the Stadium, making ongoing lease payments it otherwise may not have, and continuing to fund a business which was unknowingly on the brink of decimation.”
As noted, the Staten Island Yankees ownership has filed suit against MLB and the New York Yankees over their exclusion from the new MiLB system. There is one difference in the lawsuits: the Staten Island lawsuit relies on a clause in the original Richmond County Bank Ballpark agreement where the New York Yankees promised to keep a team there.
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