Word came out last week that MLB plans to go full steam ahead with their plans to reorganize Minor League baseball. It was thought that with the dismissal of Houston GM Jeff Luhnow, one of the major proponents of a contraction of the modern farm system as we know it, that MiLB had bought some time before such a plan took place. The Covid-19 pandemic has dealt at major blow to many low level teams now, and it appears that MiLB is set to go along with MLB’s plans in order to salvage a number of teams and leagues.
The plan to limit MLB teams to four full-season farm teams plus a rookie complex team might cause one to wonder what will happen with the Blue Jays affiliation with their short-season Northwest League affiliate, the Vancouver Canadians. The C’s have had a wonderful run as a short-season team, and their partnership with the Blue Jays has been wildly successful both on and off the field. After joining the Toronto organization in 2011, the C’s won three league titles in a row, and added a fourth in 2017, adding seating capacity and setting NWL attendance records along the way. The C’s have proven to be a valuable extension to the Blue Jays brand; the sea of blue when the Jays play in Seattle can be attributed to the Toronto-Vancouver partnership. In addition, spending time in Vancouver gives Blue Jays prospects a taste of living in Canada, foreshadowing what living in Toronto might be like one day. Giving players a small sample of our currency, our bagged milk, television, and going through Customs on a regular basis is a valuable experience.
But with four full season affiliates already, it’s hard at first to see where the C’s fit in the Blue Jays plans. The good news is that Vancouver did not appear on a preliminary list of 42 teams bound for contraction. But as Steve Ewen of the Vancouver Province pointed out, there might not be room for the C’s under the Toronto umbrella. Niall O’Donohoe at Cs+ baseball listened attentively to C’s President Andy Dunn on a local sports radio broadcast, and got the impression that Dunn still feels there’s a potential fit with the Blue Jays:
“Our affiliation and our partnership with the Toronto Blue Jays is as strong as it’s ever been so I really, at this point, don’t have any thought process or anything that that would change whatsoever.”
A very logical scenario would be for the Blue Jays Florida State League to become a complex team. The team has not historically drawn well, but a new stadium might have made a difference in their gate. And a High A team in Florida has also been an important link in the rehabilitation of injured 25-man roster players. But if Dunedin went to short-season rookie ball play, there would be an opening in full season ball, and there have been suggestions for several years that Vancouver could join the California League, a High A loop based to the south, although Dunn says that whatever level the C’s play at, they’ll still be members of the Northwest League.
The C’s did not draw well in their previous life as a full season team, mostly due to weather issues in the Lower Mainland. O’Donohoe pointed out in a conversation that April has been exceptional this year, however, and the last full season edition of the team did not have the benefit of an affiliation with Toronto.
It’s hard to say where this is all headed, but employees of the C’s, who have been hearing of these rumours for some time, will probably be very happy just to have things settled. Looking in from afar, and from conversations with Blue Jays executives, it does appear that there is a genuine desire on the part of the parent club to continue its relationship with Vancouver. The facilities at venerable old Nat Bailey Stadium are not necessarily state-of-the-art, but the C’s have provided adequate training facilities for the players under the stands, and huge, enthusiastic crowds in those stands for the players to play in. It’s very hard to see Vancouver not being part of the Toronto organization in the post Covid-19 world.