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Wednesday, Jul 23rd

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NY Yankees making moves with minor-league teams

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PNC Field

The New York Yankees are exiting the Minor League Baseball world this offseason, according to several sources, as the team is in the process of selling the Staten Island Yankees (short season A; NY-Penn League) and its share of Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees (Class AAA; International League).

The sale of the SWB Yankees was expected; the Yankees and Mandalay Baseball have had an option to buy the team for more than a year now. The pair have been managing the team, with an option to buy from the current owners (Pennsylvania's Lackawanna County and Luzerne County) for $14.6 million. (That money will be used to help pay for a renovation of PNC Field.)

However, the sale of the SI Yankees has been under the radar. According to several MiLB owners, the SI Yankees are being sold to a New York City hedge-fund manager not currently involved in professional baseball. The sale price: $8.3 million. The sale has not been finalized and must be approved by the various levels of baseball (the league, MiLB, MLB). We're expecting Mandalay to continue managing the team at Richmond County Bank Ballpark, at least in the near future.

After the SI Yankees sale is finalized, we expect to hear an announcement about Mandalay and the Yankees closing on its purchase of the SWB Yankees. The destiny of the team will be in Mandalay's hands, and there are many decisions to make.

The biggest: where to play while PNC Field (shown above) is being renovated. Folks are being tight-lipped about the team's home in 2012, but we hear the two leading contenders are Coca-Cola Park, home of the Lehigh Valley IronPigs (Class AAA; International League) and Ottawa Stadium, the former home of the Ottawa Lynx (Class AAA; International League), though Frontier Field, home of the Rochester Red Wings (Class AAA; International League), has also been mentioned. You can take Richmond County Bank Ballpark, home of the Staten Island Yankees, off the list for the moment: with a new team owner and the need to get the permission of the New York Mets to move the SWB Yankees there for a season (remember, the Yankees and the Mets have a territorial agreement that requires the other to approve any moves within the territory), a move to Staten Island is seen as being problematic. Since there's the chance an International League team could potentially cut into Brooklyn Cyclones (short-season A; NY-Penn League) attendance, permission from the Mets is not expected by some in the Yankees front office.

Which leaves Allentown and Ottawa. Moving the team to Allentown would be easy: the team would be a tenant, and Kurt Landes' team would basically take care of the rest. Same goes for Rochester: Naomi Silver and crew would be gracious hosts, to be sure.

Moving the team to Ottawa, however, has an interesting upside for Mandalay. First, many in baseball see the city as a very viable Minor League market, especially when there's a lovely 10,000-seat ballpark, Ottawa Stadium, there for the asking. We're told there's already been some research into what it would take to bring the ballpark up to speed for affiliated baseball, and the price tag would be $1 million. That's a lot to pay for a one-year shot, with limited sponsorship potential and the need to educate the locals about the return of pro ball.

But what if we're talking about more than a year? Here's a scenario floating around some baseball circles. Mandalay moves the SWB Yankees to Ottawa for a season. There are no issues to doing this: No team holds a lease for the facility for 2012 and beyond (the semi-pro Ottawa Fat Cats' lease ended at the end of their 2011 season), and we're guessing the city would love to have an affiliated tenant again.

After 2012, the Yankees return to PNC Field. Mandalay then shifts the Eastern League's Erie SeaWolves to Ottawa and buys a NY-Penn League team to move to Erie. Erie is probably much better suited to be a short-season market, and Ottawa certainly would be a fine addition to the Eastern League. We're not saying this is a firm plan or anything more than some important folks thinking out loud, but it's certainly being floated around by some owners in the know. We expect a decision to come down the pike soon, though; 2012 is just around the corner.

Image: PNC Field, 2009.

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