When the Phillies announced prior to Christmas that in all likelihood they will be looking to move to another city in 2007, it caused a lot of confusion for the average fan. Many assumed if the Phillies would not send their prospects to Lackawanna County Stadium then there would be no more minor league baseball in northeastern Pennsylvania.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Here is how affiliations work between major and minor league clubs.
Essentially it is a giant game of musical chairs only nobody takes a chair away and nobody is left sitting on the ground when the music stops.
There are various levels of minor league baseball starting at rookie level and advancing all the way to Triple-A. At each of these levels there are a set number of franchise licenses that are available and none can be added unless a new major league team is created.
At the Triple-A level, where the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons play, there are 30 available franchises in the country, or one for each of the 30 major league teams. Therefore each of the Triple-A franchises is guaranteed to be affiliated with a major league team. They are bound together by player development contracts (PDC's).
PDC's are signed every two or four years depending on what the club's negotiate. Most often the two teams will simply keep renewing the agreement as the Red Barons and Phillies have done since 1989.
Sometimes, however, one or both of the parties will want to explore other options/cities. This is what the Phillies have indicated.
This is also where is can get confusing.
For arguments sake, let's assume the Phillies decide to move their Triple-A players to the much rumored Allentown location. Right now there is no Allentown franchise. In order for Allentown to get a Triple-A franchise they would need to purchase and existing franchise and move its entire operation (including its PDC).
That means the franchise/city they purchased will no longer exist and Allentown would own one of the 30 available franchises. They would not be the 31st.
If then, the Phillies move their PDC into Allentown, at the very least the PDC that moved with the Allentown franchise from the previous city would be available and guaranteed for the Red Barons.
In late August/early September of 2006, every major and minor league club wishing to move will submit their names into a "pool." Each club in the pool is then free to negotiate new PDC's with each other.
It is quite possible more than one major league club will be interested in moving Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
If more than two clubs wish to move then the Red Barons could be in a terrific position. Given their proximity to many east coast major league teams they could become a highly sought after "free agent."
No matter what happens in September, fans can rest easy. When the music stops there will be Triple-A baseball played at Lackawanna County Stadium in 2007 and for many years beyond.