American Association Daily will provide insights and features on the American Association of Professional Baseball League, as well as player and coaching profiles and transactions going on with teams around the league. In today’s edition, we look at Milwaukee set to join the league in 2019 and what this means especially in light of the fact that Wichita Wingnuts may be in their farewell season.
A Change in League Structure
One of the biggest changes for the upcoming American Association season is the move from three four-team divisions, to two six-team divisions. The Sioux City Explorers, Kansas City T-Bones, and Lincoln Saltdogs join the Wichita Wingnuts, Texas AirHogs, and Cleburne Railroaders in the South, while the Gary Southshore RailCats move to the North Division to join the St. Paul Saints, Winnipeg Goldeyes, Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks, and Sioux Falls Canaries. The newly formed Chicago Dogs will also join the North.
The Math of the League
The Chicago Dogs will be replacing the Salina Stockade for the upcoming season. The Stockade were a one season addition, added a couple of weeks before the 2017 season to replace the now defunct Laredo Lemurs, who were forced to cease operations.
What is perplexing is that adding the Dogs kept the American Association at 12 teams. This would have meant that the league could have easily kept their alignment of three divisions with four teams each. It was clear that the owners wanted to give the RailCats a natural rival, so they could have either moved the Explorers to the North with Chicago joining the Central, or Sioux Falls could have joined the Central with Chicago and Gary moving to the North. That would have seemed like the logical decision.
However, the league opted for two divisions of six-teams each which makes sense for one reason – the owners expect there to be two additions to the American Association in 2019, with Milwaukee being one of them.
Milwaukee Will Join the American Association
The Milwaukee County Board approved the building of a new baseball park, which will be known as the Milwaukee Commons. This former landfill will part of a huge commercial and residential venture, which will include senior apartments, and will be the home of the UW-Milwaukee baseball team.
The $100 million project will seat 2,500 and have a total capacity of 4,000. According to the City of Franklin website, this park is being built specifically for an American Association team, which makes it sound like they have already worked out a deal to place a team in the league for 2019 when the ballpark is expected to be completed.
Since that would put 13 teams in the league, which doesn’t work for baseball, there must be another team that they are expecting to join when the new Milwaukee team is added. Having three divisions does not really work well with 14 teams.
In 2015, there were 13 teams in the league, and they were able to make that work, but that was with inter-league play with the Can-Am League, which is not likely to occur again. A second team must join with Milwaukee for 2019.
In that case, dividing the league into two divisions would make perfect sense, and all the league did was take that step a year early. The addition of the two new teams will mean that the Milwaukee team will join the North Division, and the new team would likely join the South.
The Wingnuts Wild Card
Of course, this entire discussion could be moot. The city of Wichita is hellbent on reeling in an affiliate team and seems confident that they are going to do so. If this is the case, a new ballpark will be built at the site of Lawrence-Dumont Stadium and the Wingnuts may be in their farewell season in 2018.
The city council seemed confident that they would have an announcement of an affiliate moving to Wichita following the MLB meetings in December, but no word has come since. There was also word that Wichita had an exclusive 30 day negotiating period with an “interested” team, but that window has passed as well. This could mean that the deal may actually be dead.
For some reason, the city does not see that putting an independent team in a new stadium has value. What is interesting about this is that Cleburne, Rosemount (Chicago), and now Franklin (Milwaukee) specifically built stadiums for independent teams that did not even exist. The project to build the new ballpark in Franklin cost over $100 million all together, which says that someone values this competitive brand of baseball, and that is without mentioning the fact that the City of St. Paul spent $65 million to build CHS Field for the St. Paul Saints. It would seem that Wichita would understand what a great value they have in their team and would happily make the Wingnuts the tenant to the city’s new ballpark.
However, one has to wonder how the Wichita Wingnuts ownership feels after bringing professional baseball back to a city when no affiliate team would touch it, yet they have been treated like the proverbial red-headed step-child. These owners are Wichita natives, but the city council showed no respect for them at all and, if a deal is not worked out with an affiliate team, it would not be surprising to see Nate Robertson, Steve Ruud, and Gary Austerman simply walk away. Who would blame them?
What to Expect for 2019
There are two scenarios that are going to play out in 2019 in the American Association. For sure, the new Milwaukee team will be a part of the league. The question then becomes if this is a 14 team league or a 12 team one.
If the Wichita Wingnuts franchise will fold, then Milwaukee will become the 12th team. They will move to the North and it would likely be that Sioux Falls would head to the South Division, putting them with their natural rivals, the Sioux City Explorers.
If the City of Wichita wakes up and realizes that they have the St. Louis Cardinals of independent baseball and works out putting the Wingnuts in that new ballpark, then we will likely see a 14th team being added for 2019. There are a few possibilities that leap out right off the bat. If Laredo can get their act together, the Lemurs could be a viable option.
There are talks that the stadium where the Fort Worth Cats used to play will get a renovation and that could lead to a team returning there. That would be ideal for Grand Prairie and Cleburne in terms of building up a rivalry, and make travel ideal for other teams in the league as they could each get a 10 game road trip through all three cities done in one shot. There may also be another city looking to add an American Association team that we do not know about.
The 2018 American Association season is not even underway, and we already have some excitement for 2019. When this season ends it is going to be an exciting off-season, as there will be a new commissioner, at least one new team joining, hopefully two, and maybe even a deal to put the Wingnuts in the new Wichita stadium. That would be the fifth team in the league to play in a new stadium in six seasons, clearly making the American Association the best league in all of independent baseball.
By Robert Pannier