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

Peoria Chiefs facing financial troubles

Last fall, during the bi-annual period in which major league organizations can seek out new minor league affiliates, the St. Louis Cardinals made two changes. Initially, both moves looked like a step up.

In the short-season Class-A New York-Penn League, the Cardinals left behind the Batavia Muckdogs in favor of State College. The former is perennially last in the league in attendance, plays in an old facility and the money-losing club remains for sale. The Spikes have strong ownership and a state-of-the-art stadium on the campus of Penn State University.

The other move was in the Class-A Midwest League. Severing their ties with Quad Cities, the Cardinals returned to Peoria, their prior home from 1996-2004. A key benefit cited is the fact that Peoria is an hour closer to St. Louis than Davenport, Iowa.

All is not well with the Peoria Chiefs, however. The Peoria Journal Star reports the local owners are seeking financial assistance through public and private entities for a possible bailout.

The core of the problem appears to be with the debt structure for the team-owned ballpark, Chiefs Stadium. The facility opened in 2002 at a cost of $16 million and the club still owes $4.2 million. The city originally provided financing assistance for the downtown stadium and additional funds for infrastructure work.

Some of the financial difficulties became evident when the team was late paying its property tax bill in 2012, incurring fines in the process. The paper also reports an unnamed bank tried to force the club to pay off its mortgage last summer.

While local officials plan to meet to discuss possible next steps, there is no immediate threat to the on-field product. Chiefs President Rocky Vonachen acknowledged the club, owned by his family, is trying to refinance the stadium debt, but affirmed that the Chiefs will play ball this season.

Though it is on a much larger scale, the Cardinals’ Triple-A affiliate, the Memphis Redbirds, also has been saddled with unmanageable ballpark-related costs. The club defaulted on its bond payments and is now controlled by a firm specializing in distressed assets. The Redbirds and AutoZone Park have been for sale for several years but the size of the debt has proven to be a considerable inhibitor.

Peoria baseball fans can only hope the Vonachen family, the City and the Chiefs’ debtors come up with a solution that will somehow benefit all.

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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35 Responses to “Peoria Chiefs facing financial troubles”

  1. JumboShrimp says:

    This sounds like an unworrisome problem for Peoria baseball fans. .
    The only reason the story is coming out must be the owners would like to get some more moola out of the Peoria politiicans. This is not surprising, since the City contributed to building the stadium and to infrastructure. Given this history, it makes sense that the owners would ask if the City could give them free money all over again? If the City just says no, however, the owners will just have to figure out how to run their business by themselves, without gifts from political pals.
    The Memphis Redbirds have been operating, even if the previous owners lost their playtoy.
    Maybe the Peoria owners could fix their problem by selling the franchise, at a rock bottom price, to the DeWitts?

  2. JumboShrimp says:

    The Peoria Chiefs average about 3,800 attendees per game.
    The Memphis AAA team averages about 7,000. The Memphis stadium has seating capacity of more than 14,000 and the half empty stadium cost about $72MM, IIRC.
    I can see how Peoria is in better shape than Memphis. They invested $16MM in a new ballpark that is able to attract about half the fans as Memphis, but for only 25 percent of the cost of the Memphis park. Memphis splurged by building a lot of seats they can’t fill.

  3. JumboShrimp says:

    Batavia was a different situation. It has served as a location for baseball since 1957, but the area has become economically weak for sustaining a pro team. In 2012, average attendance per game slipped under 1,000.
    Three different situations: Memphis built too costly and grandiose a stadium, so the owners had to turn over their keys. Batavia is too small. Peoria is probably ok. If the current owner of the Peoria team can’t make it work, he can always sell.

  4. JumboShrimp says:

    Memphis could go from the outhouse in 2012 to the penthouse during 2013. The Memphis team should really have a strong roster. At 1B, big Matt Adams. 2B Wong. SS Jackson. 3B Kozma? Rf Oscar. CF Chambers. LF Swauger or somebody else. Catchers Johnson and Towles. Quite a few pitchers available. No problem stocking this seasons AAA squad. Good times.

    • Brian Walton says:

      Well, Memphis should be better balanced in 2013. Last year, their pitching was ok, but the offense was just terrible. After four straight winning seasons, the 2012 club finished 30 games under .500. It was the Cards’ second-worst Triple-A record in 21 years, and just one loss away from tying for the worst showing since 1991.

      Springfield had a tremendous season. No one can take that away, but a few of those guys could have been promoted if helping Memphis instead of player development had been the primary objective. Fortunately, it is not.

  5. JumboShrimp says:

    “Ronny can play shortstop for anybody,” Matheny said. “I know he’s got more in there offensively (Cedeno is a lifetime .247 hitter) and I know he believes the same thing.” ‘Cedeno…said no other club really had expressed interest in him this off-season’

    Ronny is going to be great for the Cards during 2013! One of our secret weapons.

    • Brian Walton says:

      Jumbo, please provide a link from where you pulled those quotes. I’d like to read the whole thing. Thanks.

      • JumboShrimp says:

        Today’s Post Dispatch, article filed by Rick Hummel, beneath photo of Jim Edmonds being driven around in a golf cart by Red S.

        • Brian Walton says:

          You don’t do links? 😉

          OK, it is here, buried at the bottom of an Edmonds article.

          As a side point, I find it admirable that Jimmy wants to own the Cardinals someday, but I think he needs to log considerable success in business before he can hope to stand alongside the Magic Johnsons and Nolan Ryans of the world. Good for him for dreaming.

          • CariocaCardinal says:

            Doesn’t take that much money to be recognized as the “owner” of a team. I dont know what % Magic or Nolan own but i’m sure it is not 50% in either case. Doubt either one is the largest shareholder. Pat Croce was always referred to as the owner of the 76ers back in the late 90’s because he was the managing general partner – in reality he actually owned only 2% of the team.

            • Brian Walton says:

              Fair enough, but “that much money” is relative. Plus, the big money men would want a front man with proven business acumen. Magic especially has a long line of successes with an estimated net worth of somewhere between half and three-quarters of a billion. As far as I know, Edmonds lends his name to a restaurant.

        • JumboShrimp says:

          What an off season. Westbrook; Johnson; J R Towles; Wiggy and old Choate.

          Now please don’t get me wrong here folks, I am still hopeful that old Choate has some out pitches remaining up his sleeve. I am hopeful old Choate is not another JC Romero or Randy Flores or old Miller or that gopher baller from the Jays who was just the worst ever. While I am not hugely optimistic about old Wiggy, maybe he can help out against LHPs. And Westbrook can munch through 190+ innings.

          Set against these characters, Ronny Cedeno seems a breath of fresh air, a ray of sunshine and hope. Mike and I know Ronny has some more hits in his bat, we just need Ronny to pull them out of there.

          • Brian Walton says:

            Jumbo, you must be the patron saint of struggling shortstops. I recall the same posts back in 2008, only with “Mighty Cesar” substituted instead. Maybe the Ronny and Aura Show will turn out better. 😉

            • JumboShrimp says:

              Its a no-brainer that any show that includes Aura is better than a show without her.

              If it only had been Mighty Cesar, we might not have been so glum back in 2008. No, it was Mitey Cesar, a very different animal indeed. I proposed a hypothesis that the Mitey One might have some rebound potential, in terms of offense, suppressed by years of injuries. Unfortunately, this did not come to pass. While he stayed healthy, Cesar supplied an OPS of .639, IIRC, with one HR, strangely enough clobbered in HR unfriendly San Diego.

              Cedeno seems a better hitter than Cesar Izturis, illustrated again last summer with the Mets, with the 740 OPS. Ronny is a super insurance policy on Raffy, though no based in the Caymans, to Westie’s disappointment. Setting aside Raffys elbow, I suspect Raffy has a chronically vulnerable back and cannot play full time anymore. This being so, Ronny is a great backup and can platoon with Descalso at 2B. We have awesome depth at SS, since I love Mr. September and Jackson too.

              • JumboShrimp says:

                “He’s got a glove. We know that he can play shortstop for anybody,” manager Mike Matheny said. “I think that he has more in there offensively, and I know that he feels the same. It’s just the consistency. He can put together a good at-bat, but we know what his main tool is and that is to go out there and play defense.”

              • Brian Walton says:

                I stand corrected on the difference between Mighty and Mitey. That is huge! 😉

                On the field, it remains to be seen, but my money is on a one-and-done performance like Izturis.

          • JumboShrimp says:

            Brian Tallet was the guy from the Jays. He gave up 20 HRs in 77 innings for the Jays, during 2010. That is really bad. So of course we wanted him, gambling nobody could really be that bad. Sadly, he was.

            • Brian Walton says:

              C’mon, Jumbo. We all know a part of that deal was each club moving guys they no longer wanted. Tallet vs. Trever Miller – choose your poison.

              • WestCoastbirdWatcher says:

                Kenny Williams was the architect of this trade……..they had withdrawn support from Ozzie when they were still only 5 games back………….. it was a 9.5 million dollar salary bail for WSox……….in fact, the moves were so conspicuous, Jays threw in a valued reliever which was returned to them in the off season for peanuts ………… that was just to hide the growing fracture in the appearance of non support to Ozzie G……
                Ozzie and Adam Dunn……. a perfect match???????? Jays and the Cards trade equivalent salary impediments…….. player for a player……… Colby’s price was the upside of scrabble and the 9.5 the Jays absorbed……… the rest was just SH luck……………. It also began the count down for Tony………. he was a gambler though …………… How about those Cards extending Carpenter on that great deal……and then letting Tony whip him to the finish like a tired Mule……….. and then letting Matheny have a go at him in September 2012 ………… that BD is a gambling fool isn’t he ……….

              • JumboShrimp says:

                The Cards signed Tallet for 2011, after his horrid 2010 for Toronto. Miller was the other lefty to begin 2011. Happily, in late July, we were able to unload Rasmus, Miller, and Tallet on the Jays. It was never Tallet vs. Miller. Rather it was Tallet and Miller, two sad sacks, until happily they were replaced by Rzepcynski and Arthur Rhodes.

                  • JumboShrimp says:

                    Tne Birds look stronger at lefty reliever for 2013. Beyond Choate and Rzepcynski, at AAA/AA there are Freeman, Gast, Lyons, and Siegrist.

                    • Brian Walton says:

                      All four of the minor league lefties named are ranked between #20 and #35 on our 2013 Cards top prospect list. Siegrist and Freeman are already on the 40-man.

                    • blingboy says:

                      The Cards have pushed Gast hard. 2012 was only his second full season and he was at AAA most of the year. His numbers held up pretty well. It seems unlikely they would have pushed him up to AAA so quick just to let him sit there, so I’d think we will see him pretty soon.

                      Lyons moved even faster, but his name is Tyler, so that’s a strike against him. His numbers look good too, except for losing more than he won. I think we’ll get a look at him pretty soon too.

                      Its nice to have a glut of good looking lefties. 🙂

                    • JumboShrimp says:

                      Siegrist and Freeman are on the 40 man, since they were eligible for Rule 5, whereas Gast and Lyons are not draft vulnerable yet, so the Cards have smartly kept them off the 40 man.
                      As products of elite college programs, Gast and Lyons have ascended to AAA smoothly, though so did PJ Walters who then spent 3 years at Memphis.

                    • blingboy says:

                      Good points Jumbo.

                    • Brian Walton says:

                      All things anywhere close to equal, the guys on the 40-man, whose option year is already being used, will get the call to the majors first.

                      Removing another player has to occur to enable one to be added. That would surely happen if a non-40-man player stood out above the others as in the case of Rosenthal last year.

                      In other words, Freeman and Siegrist have a leg up on Gast and Lyons. (Actually, Freeman has a leg and a half in that he had a couple of stints in St. Louis last year.)

                      It is good the Cards have choices. Hopefully if needed, one or more of them will be ready.

                    • JumboShrimp says:

                      2013 would be a good time for Freeman to excel at AAA. If a door of opportunity were to open, a young man has to be ready to grab it.
                      Freeman turned down the Cards coming out of a juco and landed at Kansas State. As a starting pitcher there, his ERA was above 8. The Cards redrafted him anyway, for relief. It looked last summer that his fastball is back to 94, after rebounding from TJ surgery. This gives him a weapon not available for Browning, who did a nice job for Memphis last summer.

                    • Brian Walton says:

                      Freeman was a KU Jayhawk.

                    • JumboShrimp says:

                      Freeman was a Texan, before one spring in Kansas. His signing was attributed to Joe Almaraz, as were Matt Carpenter and Jaime Garcia, two more Texas amateurs.
                      Almaraz may have helped recruit Ralph Garr Jr, since both once scouted for the Os. Garr is credited with signing Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins, two more Texas amateurs.
                      Some Texas draftees did not reach the Show, Darry Jones and Brad Furnish, but overall, its a nice record.

                    • crdswmn says:

                      My neighbor got her dog from Houston. (MO).

                      Relevance is overrated. 😛 😛

    • blingboy says:

      I’m getting the feeling we may see quite a bit of Ronny. I haven’t heard much good about Furcal so far, unless I missed it.

      • JumboShrimp says:

        It was surprising the Cards made an immense offer to Scutaro, $18mm over 2 years. Scutaro is a Venezuelan middle infielder, even older than Old Wiggy and Older Choate. Scutaro makes Furcal seem like a kid.
        10 years ago, Scutaro was just another minor league free agent. Now, teams are offering the same Scutaro mammoth contracts. I feel much better about the Cards landing Venezuelan SS Ronny Cedeno 30 years old for $1MM-$2MM, instead of forking out $18MM for Old Scutaro.

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