The AAA Buffalo Bisons affiliate agreement with the Mets is up at the end of the season, and according to Baseball America there are rumors abounding that the Herd is looking to dump the Mets for another undisclosed team, almost certainly the Toronto Blue Jays. While most minor league teams use ancillary attractions to sell tickets (family friendly atmosphere, between inning contests, etc.), Buffalo does put a premium on winning on the field, something the Bisons have not done with regularity since the Mets began sending players there in 2009. In fact, Buffalo has seen average attendance drop from approximately 8,800 in 2008 (the year before the Mets showed up) to 7,800 last year. This season, average attendance is around 7,000. Clearly, something needs to change for their bottom line. Not for nothing, Toronto is a lot closer to Buffalo and – for better or worse – the Buffalo Bills have played a regular season game in Toronto the last few years. So there is a relationship there. In 2008, the Mets were in the position of choosing between Buffalo and the Syracuse Chiefs for their AAA affiliate. Buffalo won out, and Syracuse wound up going with the Washington Nationals. Since then, both Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper breeze through town. The Bisons haven’t had a comparable buzz worthy prospect before Matt Harvey this arrived season (and has since been replaced by Zack Wheeler).
With the surge in popularity of Minor League baseball since the 1990’s, many Major League teams have tried to cash in on the phenomenon – either by buying affiliates outright, or establishing relationships with affiliates closer to the parent club. The Mets fell victim to this in 2006, when the Norfolk Tides ended their thirty eight year affiliation with the Mets in favor of the closer to home Baltimore Orioles. The Mets were left without a seat at the end of that round of musical chairs, and signed a two year agreement with the New Orleans Zephyrs of the Pacific Coast League. This was far from an advantageous relationship. First off, the Zephyrs were a four hour flight from home field to home field, and almost all of their road games were west of the Mississippi. Bringing a guy up quickly for an emergency spot start is harder when he is on the other side of the country rather than an hour flight away. So where would the Mets go if they are jilted by Buffalo. Syracuse is likely to stay put (again, having a parent club stock you with guys who are household names BEFORE they get to the big leagues is a good way to engender goodwill). The Blue Jays current affiliate is the Las Vegas 51’s. Also, the Oklahoma City Red Hawks are likely to be in play. Obviously, these are not desirable for the same reason as New Orleans, and are unlikely to be a long term solution. But it begs a bigger question – why are the Mets having such a problem securing a long term relationship with a AAA affiliate?