As if 2020 couldn’t get any weirder: the St Paul Saints are now in the affiliated ranks as the Minnesota Twins’ Triple-A club. It’s a sentence that many fans of not only the Saints but also independent baseball in general are probably surprised to have heard in recent days and weeks. The team from St Paul was a founding member of two independent leagues - the Northern League in 1993 and the American Association in 2006 - and set a high (if not, the highest) standard for organizations across the indy league markets. Now they’re off to greener pastures.
On one hand, the independent league circuit lost a cornerstone team. The rivalries between the Saints and the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks and Winnipeg Goldeyes are now a thing of the past. Their well-traveled fanbase won’t be hitting up any other American Association cities moving forward.
On the other hand, trips to the Twin Cities for this writer will be a bit more exciting. Seeing the Twins prospects that are on the brink of making the big-leagues in action? Count me in. I also haven’t been to the newer CHS Field, so it’s on my list of to-dos once the world gets back to some sense of normalcy.
Enough babbling from me... So what does this move mean for the Saints and the American Association overall? Let’s take a look.
What happens to the Saints players and staff?
In the American Association, all players are considered free agents at the end of the season and can re-sign with their previous team if there is mutual agreement. In a normal, non-COVID-impacted season, there were roster rules to abide by, such has having a cap on players that had a certain amount of experience at the professional level. Essentially, the Saints did not have anyone on their roster when they moved to the Twins farm system.
However, they did have a coaching staff. Unfortunately, they will need to find a new team for 2021 as the Twins will most likely keep their staff intact. Minnesota changed locations, not teams or staff. This means that longtime Saints manager George Tsamis, who has been with the team since 2003, and his staff will be looking for new jobs.
Will the ticket prices go up for Saints games? Will anything change with the atmosphere?
Apparently not. According to the press conference yesterday, the Saints will be keeping ticket prices the same for the 2021 season. You can catch a game at CHS Field and then take the Green Line over to Target Field for some big-league action (or vice-versa). The Saints and Twins have stated that St Paul will continue to deliver the same fun and craziness as it has done already for almost 30 years.
So what does this mean for the American Association?
With the loss of the Saints as well as the Texas AirHogs earlier this winter, the AA sits at 10 teams, which is a nice, even number. However, from a geographical standpoint, it’s pretty wacky considering that the Cleburne Railroaders are sitting pretty alone down south while the other nine teams are in the mid-to-northern part of the Plains.
After the conclusion of the season, the league hinted at expansion in Texas, where Bob Wills is still the king. Where those teams may be is anyone’s guess right now as there’s no abandoned minor-league teams in that part of the country. The AA would certainly benefit from having additional teams that far south to make a road trip more worthy than playing a three-game set in Cleburne, then high-tailing it back north.
With the re-alignment announcement yesterday, there were a handful of teams that were left out of the MLB Draft League and the minor league invitations from MLB clubs. Three of these teams - Kane County Cougars in the southwestern edge of the Chicago suburbs; Clinton Lumberjacks in Clinton, Iowa, which sits on the border with Illinois in the middle of eastern Iowa; and Burlington Bees in southeastern Iowa - are geographically ideal additions to the league. All three cities that the teams reside in have populations of over 20,000 and have vowed to keep baseball going despite being axed from MiLB.
In addition, Steve Schuster, voice of the Winnipeg Goldeyes, added in the Jackson Generals (Jackson, Tennessee) and Lexington Legends (Lexington, Kentucky) to the mix and put together a neat table to show the distance between each club if five teams were added in.
Here's how some of the now-available markets fit into the American Association footprint. Red indicates more than 600 miles (~ 9-hour bus trip).— Steve Schuster (@growcasting) December 9, 2020
Lexington and Jackson are reaches, but not totally outrageous when you look at the mileage. pic.twitter.com/uuw11i2q7e
He goes on to note that adding Jackson and Lexington would not be out of the question since the trip from Winnipeg to Cleburne is 1,320 miles.
Besides the possibility of expansion, the league and other independent ventures have big shoes to fill with the departure of the Saints. As mentioned before, a high bar and expectation was set by the club while it was in the league. Now the American Association and its teams have to meet those expectations while also ushering in a new era of baseball as an MLB Partner League - details of which are yet unknown.