Thursday, September 21, 2006

Bye Tides

With each passing day, odds that the Norfolk Tides will affiliate with the Baltimore Orioles increase.

Seeing the Orioles as frontrunners in a perceived two-horse race to land Norfolk as a Triple-A affiliate, the Washington Nationals aligned with the Columbus Clippers.

The Nationals' Triple-A affiliate had previously played in New Orleans.

"I'd say it's an 88 percent chance we end up with the Orioles and about a 12 percent chance we go back with the New York Mets," Tides general manager Dave Rosenfield said upon hearing of the Nationals' decision.

Earlier this month, the Tides decided not to renew their working agreement with the Mets, putting a 38-year relationship on hold. The Tides blamed the Mets for a series of communication breakdowns between the two organizations.

The Orioles, who housed their Triple-A players in Ottawa for the past four years, have been viewed as the favorite to replace the Mets from the start.

Over the summer, Tides president Ken Young formed a new ownership group that purchased three minor-league teams in Maryland - the Delmarva Shorebirds, Frederick Keys and Bowie Baysox - all with existing affiliations to the Orioles.

According to Young, the Tides would be seeking a two-year affiliation agreement, or "player development contract," with the Orioles. Baseball's governing bodies require that affiliation agreements be for either two or four years.

With Young on the West Coast conducting business with his food services company it is unlikely that a deal will be completed in the next day or so.

Mets officials visited the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre organization in Moosic, Pa., on Tuesday in an effort to pry that franchise from the grip of the New York Yankees. The Yankees ended a 28-year relationship with Columbus and reports have the Yankees all but locked into signing a deal with Scranton.

The Yankees, Rosenfield said, have not contacted the Tides.

The Mets could likely end up in New Orleans, which looks to be the least-attractive option in the affiliation shuffle. Not only is New Orleans still in a major rebuilding phase more than a year after Hurricane Katrina, the New Orleans Zephyrs play in the Pacific Coast League. Major League teams on the East Coast prefer to have their Triple-A team playing in the International League, based primarily on the East Coast.

Rosenfield said he'd had a lengthy and polite discussion with Mets director of minor league operations Adam Wogan earlier this week. Meanwhile, Young had a similar conversation with Mets chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon.

But major damage seems to have been done. Tides officials saw it as a slap when Mets general manager Omar Minaya and assistant general manager Tony Bernazard failed to visit Norfolk this past season. It did not help matters that the Mets constructed one of the worst Triple-A teams to play in Norfolk. The Tides finished 57-84.

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