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Brian Walton's news and commentary on the St. Louis Cardinals (TM) and their minor league system

With the Muckdogs on the block, what might the Cardinals do?

There are many uncertainties as the Batavia Muckdogs are for sale and their Player Development Contract with the St. Louis Cardinals is also up.

Batavia MuckdogsIf anyone out there has $5-$6 million burning a hole in your pocket and have a desire to own a minor league team, I have news for you. The Batavia Muckdogs of the New York-Penn League are officially for sale.

The Genesee County Baseball Club (GCBC), the not-for-profit organization that owns the Muckdogs, issued a press release on Friday soliciting bidders for the team, long floundering under a sea of red ink.

Rochester Community Baseball (RCB), owner of the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings, has been operating the Muckdogs under contract with the GCBC for the last three seasons. As attendance remained at the bottom of the league, causing RCB to lose money in Batavia every year, they have made it clear they would not be back for 2011.

As reported here previously, RCB has accrued a 15 percent share of the Muckdogs, five percent for each year of operation. In a $6 million sale, they would receive $900,000, more than enough to offset the estimated $500,000 in losses that have mounted since they took over business management of the Muckdogs prior to the 2008 season. As a point of reference, another league team, the Oneonta Tigers, was sold and moved to Connecticut prior to the 2010 season, fetching $6 million on the open market.

The GCBC release did not provide a timeframe for a sale decision but stated a wish to locate investors willing to keep the team in Batavia. No mention was made of how prospective new operators might make money when the last two have failed.

Whether the team stays or goes, it is unclear how long necessary approvals from the league and Minor League Baseball would require following the naming of a winning bidder. Based on other sales, it seems quite possible that the uncertain status could extend deep into the off-season.

This situation also has potentially significant affect on the on-field operations of the team.

Likely before the ownership plans are settled, the St. Louis Cardinals will be faced with a decision as to their future affiliation with the franchise. Unlike the rookie Gulf Coast League and the Appalachian Leagues where all or most teams respectively, are owned by their major league parent organizations, 12 of the 14 NY-Penn League clubs are independently owned.

The Cardinals two-year Player Development Contract with Batavia expires at the end of this season. When I recently asked a organization official about their intentions going forward, he made no comment other than to note that until the season is up, they can do nothing about formally considering alternatives.

PDCs of 11 of the 12 independently-owned NY-Penn clubs also complete next month, so if the Cardinals want to explore moving their affiliation to one of the existing franchises, the option will be available for them to pursue during a brief window of time this fall.

In the past, the Cardinals organization has stated their desire to remain in the NY-Penn League. Further, they seem pleased with their decision to expand their US-based rookie short-season league presence to three teams via their 2007 re-entry into the Gulf Coast League.

Despite the NY-Penn League’s distance from the other organization’s affiliates, the only other circuit at the same level of play, the Northwest League, offers perhaps even greater logistical challenges.

As such, the Cardinals New York-Penn League plans, like the prospective sale of the Muckdogs, will bear watching this fall.

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