With the 2021 season scheduled to begin in April, the Pensacola Blue Wahoos will have its third parent club in its 10-year history. That move is part of a tectonic shift in minor league baseball.
The Wahoos have received — and are expected to accept — a formal invitation to become the Double-A affiliate of the Miami Marlins. The team, which will remain in the Southern League, began as a Cincinnati Reds farm club from 2012 to 2018, then affiliated with the Minnesota Twins the past two seasons.
“It was 10 years ago on Dec. 16 that I bought the Carolina Mudcats to move them to Pensacola; and I’ve learned an awful lot about baseball,” said Blue Wahoos co-owner Quint Studer.
One of those lessons is that the minor leagues were operated by an association, whose official name was Minor League Baseball. The agreement between the major leagues and MiLB expired in late September.
“And with that, Major League Baseball made the decision that they would rather run minor league baseball directly themselves, instead of having a middle organization,” Studer said. “Part of that was looking at facilities – locations particularly – and they also looked at a reduction of affiliated teams from 160 to 120.”
However, Studer doesn’t expect player development to suffer, despite fewer teams in major league organizations.
“Just because analytics and other things, [MLB] felt they didn’t need as many players in the minor league systems as they used to have,” Studer said. “And some of these players now can play in other leagues – independent leagues. So that, if they were really that good they would eventually be discovered.”
Studer says part of the shifting involves geographical interests. Case in point the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp, which is moving up from the Double-A Southern League to be the Marlins’ top affiliate.
“And with Jacksonville going to Triple-A, it just makes sense for Pensacola to fill that Double-A spot with the Marlins. So the Marlins have an A team in Jupiter, a AA team in Pensacola and a AAA team in Jacksonville.”
While closer proximity is expected to reduce some costs, some new costs are on the horizon. The Wahoos will travel next season on two buses, and there are some changes at the stadium to benefit the players.
“In the old days, players would get their food in like a buffet, and go back into the locker room and eat,” Studer said. “Major League doesn’t think that’s best for health. We here in Pensacola had already made that move. They want space for videographers because they have so many more people and more coaches. And then we’re seeing more and more women in baseball.”
For now, one unanswered question is what form will the 2021 season take in the minors. Studer says because of the pandemic, don’t look for the traditional start of the season in April. Spring training, he says, will be in two phases.
“The first phase is going to be for the players on the major league roster and some Triple-A; and then the next phase will be the Double-A and the two Single-A – they have a High-A and a Low-A,” said Studer. “Because the second phase will be where the Blue Wahoo players will be. We’re looking right now at sometime in May at the start of the season.”
One concern among a number of minor league team owners is how the changes could affect their franchise’s value. But Studer says that is not something on the Blue Wahoo’s to-do list, because the team has never been based on that factor.
“Our whole goal is to make it a community value; but there are certain owners [who] possibly feel that this change could hurt the value of their franchise,” Studer said.
“You’re going to have less of a bottom line because you’re certainly going to increase your expenses. We’re very optimistic; we understand the change [and] we want to be good team players.”
With the changes in classification underway, Studer was asked if Pensacola could move up eventually.
“No,” he said emphatically. “You have to have pretty big city and a pretty good market because it's much more expensive because players fly. You just don’t have the location because of our [Pensacola International] airport everything’s a double trip. The minor-league owner pays for the transportation, not the major-league team.”
Elsewhere, the Beloit, Wisconsin Snappers have been invited to become the Advanced-A affiliate of the Miami Marlins. The Snappers are also managed by Quint and Rishy Studer.