In American Association Daily, Robert Pannier provides an update on the Wichita Wingnuts as they are formally given permission by the American Association to suspend operations for a year.
Wichita Wingnuts Suspend Operations for a Year
It appears that strike three has not been officially called on the Wichita Wingnuts. The team had formerly asked the American Association to allow them to suspend operations for a season to determine the direction the franchise will take, opening the door for a potential move or sale of the club.
In August, the City of Wichita announced that the New Orleans Baby Cakes, the AAA affiliate of the Miami Marlins, would be moving to Wichita in 2020. In conjunction with the move, the city is building the team a brand new ballpark that is expected to cost as much as $81 million, and which will be ready by opening day, 2020.
To complete the deal, the owners of the Baby Cakes officially bought out the lease of the Wingnuts, paying $250,000 to the team each year until 2026. This deal included a non-compete clause, barring the Wingnuts owners from operating the team within close proximity to Wichita.
However, the team has not opted to ride off into the sunset. As soon as the announcement was made that the Baby Cakes would be coming to Wichita, Wingnuts ownership was contacted by three or four groups who wished to buy the club’s affiliation with the American Association. That would allow a group to technically move the team to another location, yet use the Wingnuts membership to join.
In addition, there appears to be some interest by the team to relocate. Several cities in the lower Midwest have offered to build a stadium if the current ownership group was still interested in keeping the team. While the owners have expressed little interest in owning a team outside of the Wichita area, they have not completely ruled it out either.
Last week, the American Association approved the suspension of team operations to allow the owners of the team to pursue all available options. This has helped to alleviate a potential problem that could have arisen had the Wingnuts remained in the league.
The Milwaukee Milkmen will officially be joining the American Association in 2019, which will give the league 12 teams. Had the Wingnuts continued to operate next year, it would have given the league an odd number of teams, forcing them run a “traveling” team which played all 100 games on the road to keep the number of teams at an even number. This was not an option the league was happy to embrace.
Instead, the likelihood is that the Wingnuts will move to a new location and return in 2020. This will help to facilitate the return of Fort Worth to the league that same year.
It will soon be announced that the Cleburne Railroaders have been sold to a new ownership group which will take control of the team in the upcoming days. Rumors persist that Donny Nelson, who is selling the Railroaders, has been working to put together a group that will fix up LeGrave Field in Fort Worth so a new team can become its tenant. It is not known if Nelson is interested in purchasing the Wingnuts or if he is intending to start a new franchise.
By Robert Pannier