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They Might Be Giants

Report: Salem-Keizer Volcanoes on MLB’s Elimination List

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The Giants’ Short-A affiliate might be one of 42 minor league teams to be eliminated in a new MLB proposal.

Fans take in a game at Volcanoes Stadium in Keizer, Or., on August 19, 2017.

A New York Times report on Saturday listed 42 teams that MLB is proposing to eliminate from Minor League Baseball, and the longtime Giants affiliate Salem-Keizer Volcanoes of the Northwest League is on that list.

The full list of reported teams to be eliminated can be seen here:

The proposal is part of an MLB plan to change the Minor League Baseball experience. Initially reported by Baseball America in October, details have begun to leak about the specifics. The plan would call for eliminating most of the short-season leagues in baseball (42 teams) and re-aligning others, all for the sake of reducing travel times and costs for remaining teams. The collateral damage would be local communities impacted by the shuttering of minor league stadiums and the ensuing loss of jobs and entertainment options, to say nothing of the lost revenue from taxpayer-funded stadium improvements made at the behest of Major League Baseball.

The Volcanoes play in Volcanoes Stadium, built in 1997 when the team moved from Bellingham, WA. The 5,600 person capacity is third largest in the Northwest League, and it has had several upgrades in recent years.

The Giants became affiliated with the team in 1995, when the team was in Bellingham. It moved to Keizer in 1997. The Volcanoes have won five league titles, most recently in 2009. The team also hosted what was called the first professional baseball game to have an “Eclipse Delay” in 2017. The Volcanoes are the Giants’ second-longest tenured minor league affiliate. The San Jose Giants have been an affiliate since 1988.

In a letter to McCovey Chronicles, team owner Jerry Walker indicated that the stadium was built to the standards set by MLB and was approved by MLB and MiLB prior to construction. Walker also noted that the team has never had any facility waivers requested or needed from MLB.

First, we have not been contacted by the San Francisco Giants nor Major League Baseball concerning this. Our affiliation with the San Francisco Giants spans twenty-five (25) seasons and has always been very amiable, responsive and productive. We are perplexed by this on many levels. We are told Major League Baseball says their proposal is to reduce travel and have improved facilities. Volcanoes Stadium was built in 1997 to the standards set by Major League Baseball, the plans were submitted and approved by both Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball and the Stadium won a Design Award from the American Institute of Architects.

The plan, which has been reported to have been organized by small-market teams such as the Houston Astros, Baltimore Orioles, and the Milwaukee Brewers, also includes plans to reduce the draft from 40 rounds to 20, cap the total numbers of players in an organization at 150, and limit the total number of affiliate teams. For instance, the New York Yankees have nine. The Astros chose to reduce their number of minor league affiliates from nine to seven after the 2016 season. They had two teams each in the Rookie leagues in the U.S. and the Dominican Republic, and reduced it to one each. The Giants currently have eight teams in their system.

The realignment proposal has been spearheaded by general manager Jeff Luhnow of the Astros and has been in the works for months. This happened before recent scandals that have brought scrutiny on Luhnow and the Astros, regarding the conduct of assistant general manager Brandon Taubman towards female reporters and reports of the team stealing signs in 2017, hit the media during and after the World Series. The plan was presented to MLB owners months ago and was unanimously approved.

Two other GMs who connected to this plan worked closely with Luhnow in the past: Brewers GM David Stearns served as Jeff Luhnow’s assistant GM from 2012-2015, and Orioles GM Mike Elias was Houston’s director of amateur scouting and promoted to assistant general manager when Stearns left. Elias left in 2018, and Taubman replaced him.

It’s still just a plan, of course, and will need approval by or negotiation with Minor League Baseball to become practice, but that doesn’t seem forthcoming at the moment.

“If we are forced to defend ourselves and fight for mere survival, we will,” said Minor League president Pat O’Conner to previous reports. “We understand (MLB’s) concerns about facilities that are deficient and not up to standards of what 21st century baseball requires and we have said we’re more than willing to work with them on that, as we are in respect to other (wellness) issue. We can work on re-aligning some of our minor leagues so they are more geographically convenient and we can do things with our schedules, as in longer — five-game series — to cut out extra trips.”

Yet neither the Volcanoes nor the Dust Devils seem to fall under the travel time issue. The Volcanoes sit along the I-5 corridor, which houses five of the league’s current eight teams, and sit in the largest cluster of teams between nearby Hillsboro (a suburb of Portland) to the north and Eugene to the south. Tri-City is lonely in south-central Washington, but sits as a midpoint to two other remote eastern teams in large markets, the Spokane (WA) Indians and the Boise (ID) Hawks.

Walker adds,

It should also be noted that the Volcanoes’ have, by far, the best travel (least miles traveled) in the Northwest League. This includes multiple 45 minutes to 1 hour commute trips every season. If one of MLB goals is to decrease travel certainly Volcanoes Stadium needs to be included.

making the team’s inclusion in this removal plan — which either Rob Dean or Larry Baer endorse as per the aforementioned unanimous vote — somewhat confusing, if not downright troubling. As Walker notes:

· A new 1,000 sq. ft. building was constructed to serve as a Weight Room for the Team.

· A new 5,000+ sq. ft. building was constructed to serve as an Team indoor hitting facility, it houses four (4) indoor cages and is described by Giants’ instructors as 1st Class and Top Notch.

· The clubhouse was expanded and a coaches’ room was constructed to provide lockers and workstations for Giants’ coaches and roving staff. This addition provided for a private manager’s office with separate restroom and shower.

· A lunchroom was constructed to provide an area separate from the clubhouse for players/staff dining.

· A multitude of field improvements including installation of a 3rd bullpen mound and all new infield DuraEdge soil, in 2018, to match the conditions and playing surface in San Francisco.

It’s unclear which criteria MLB used to select Salem-Keizer, as the team’s statements do not match MLB’s published criteria for eliminating teams.

The short-season Northwest League that is home to the Volcanoes won’t be eliminated, but they and another team, the Tru-City Dust Devils (Pasco WA) are on the chopping block, with the league itself being converted from a short season league into a full-season Low-A league. That would leave the Northwest League with only six teams before any realignment.

The plan does spare two Giants’ affiliates with older stadiums. The San Jose Giants play at Excite Ballpark, formerly known as San Jose Municipal Stadium, which was built in 1942. The Richmond Flying Squirrels play at The Diamond, which was built in 1985. Both teams have active plans for new stadiums. Also, both play in metropolitan areas that are far larger in population than Salem, Oregon.

Other recent minor league homes of the Giants are on the list as well. The Connecticut Tigers, who play in Norwich, the former home of the Giants Double-A affiliate as recently as 2009, are on the list. (That team, known as the Norwich Navigators and then the Connecticut Defenders, moved to Richmond, Virginia, for the 2010 season.) Also on the list is the Hagerstown Suns in Maryland. They were affiliates of the Giants from 2001 through 2004, before the Giants signed an affiliation with the Augusta GreenJackets.

The majority of the potential contraction teams are from the short-season NY-Penn League and Pioneer League, and the advanced rookie level Appalachian League; however, teams from levels as high as Double-A are named on the list. Notably, one team from the California League, the Lancaster JetHawks, is also on the list. That would leave the California League with seven teams, and no obvious realignment plans to restore it to an even number.

Perhaps the plight of minor league teams and minor league players doesn’t register for most people, but it’s worth noting that, usually, big problems have small beginnings. As this offseason has already been dominated by scandals regarding stealing signs and violence against women, and we head into the CBA negotiations at the end of the 2020 season, it’s also important to remember and keep track of what happens to minor league baseball across the country.