The most important point as far as I’m concerned is that Bisons attendance has been falling fairly steadily, since 1991. That’s over two decades of straight slipping. Some years, the declines are larger than others, but the declines are real and consistent.
You know what else has been declining in the last twenty one years? The Buffalo population, which is less than half of its 1950s peak. To be fair, the population of the other major Western New York cities like Syracuse and Rochester has been falling as well. Buffalo is a relatively poor city with a median household income of $30,043 as of the last census, well below the New York State median of $55,603. Perhaps more damning, 30% of Buffalo lived below the poverty level.
With the Mets’ Triple-A affiliation with Las Vegas looking — for better and worse — all but inevitable, Toby investigates and debunks claims that the Major League team is largely responsible for the Bisons’ declining attendance figures. It’s worth a read.
I don’t know enough about player-development contracts or the specific situation in Buffalo to say anything for certain, but this latest turn seems more like misfortune than mismanagement from the Mets’ end. Obviously the Blue Jays make a hell of a lot of sense for the Bisons and vice versa, and it looks like the Mets will wind up the last man standing when the music stops in Triple-A musical chairs — forcing them to skulk down into the chair that no one really wants to sit in because it’s such an awful chair for pitching from.
About that: The Mets have, for the first time in a long time, a bunch of young pitchers at the high levels of their system. If Dillon Gee and Johan Santana are healthy come April — far from a guarantee, mind you — then the group of Zack Wheeler, Collin McHugh, Jeurys Familia and Jenrry Mejia should all be targeting the Triple-A rotation out of Spring Training (barring a Major League bullpen assignment).
They should be targeting that, but if the Mets’ Triple-A home is in Las Vegas, they might not wind up there. Check this out: That environment is so unfavorable to pitchers that it seems teams often fill it up with Quad-A types and leave the prospects at Double-A. The Blue Jays’ two youngest starters this year, 22-year-old Henderson Alvarez and 21-year-old Drew Hutchison, both skipped over Triple-A en route to the pros. And since the Blue Jays started their affiliation with Las Vegas in 2009, they haven’t let many of their pitching prospects spend much time there — pretty much just Brett Cecil. Kyle Drabek spent half a year there, but his is hardly a success story.
Before the Blue Jays, the Dodgers’ Triple-A team was in Vegas. To find many success stories from Las Vegas’ pitching ranks, you have to go back to 2006, when Chad Billingsley, Joel Hanrahan and Hong-Chih Kuo all spent time in the 51s’ rotation. Clayton Kershaw skipped Triple-A when he jumped to the pros in 2008. Edwin Jackson also skipped a stop in Vegas before his big-league debut in 2003, but he started the 2004 season there, got torched, got torched there again in 2005 and then got traded before he 2006 season.
Of course, that’s hardly to say that time in Las Vegas precludes a pitcher from Major League success — the example of Billingsley suggests otherwise, plus pitching prospects succeed so infrequently that it’s impossible to expect anyone from the Triple-A ranks at any city to make an impact in the big leagues. It does appear, though, that the Blue Jays were careful about which pitchers they used in Las Vegas and when. That could just be the organization’s philosophy or a reflection of the timing of Alvarez’s and Hutchison’s Major League arrival, but there’s no doubt that Vegas’ combination of thin air and hard surface make for a brutal pitching environment that the Mets, should the affiliation happen as expected, will need to monitor.
It’s obviously not ideal. Unless, of course, you’re planning a road trip to see the Mets’ Triple-A team in 2013 and you love shiny things and home runs. Then you’re all set, buddy.
Buy the ticket, take the ride…and if it occasionally gets a little heavier than what you had in mind, well…maybe chalk it off to forced conscious expansion: Tune in, freak out, get beaten.