How minor league contraction will (probably) affect the Dodgers


Editor’s Note: This is the Wednesday, November 18 edition of the Inside the Dodgers newsletter from reporter JP Hoornstra. To receive the newsletter in your inbox, Register here.


There is some debate as to whether or not the Dodgers’ eight-year streak of National League West titles formed a dynasty before winning a World Series, whether it is a dynasty, or whether another championship is required before someone the “D-word.” It’s a good debate for sports talk radio or Twitter – any place that would rather shout and E-SCREAM nuance. It’s just semantics. As for me, I don’t care how you define “dynasty” as long as it includes an empire based on comfortable furniture for your feet.

The remarkable thing about the past eight years for me is how much has changed while the Dodgers’ place in the standings remained stable. Changes in Major League players and management receive the most attention. No changes for coaches and minor league affiliates, but that’s what this newsletter is about. These things change again. No matter who, what and where, we can count on the Dodgers to be another World Series favorite in 2021.

First-base coach George Lombard heads to Detroit to be AJ Hinch’s bank coach, but you probably have read about that already. Chris Gimenez is not returning as a roving minor league instructor. He leaves the organization to become a private instructor at a baseball facility in Reno, Nevada. (This has not been reported before.) I am not aware of any other planned changes for the Dodgers 2021 coaching staff.

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As for affiliates, the total number of minor league baseball teams will drop from 160 to 120. That allows four affiliates per franchise, plus two complex teams. To the Dodgers, the restructuring seems to leave the Ogden Raptors or the Great Lakes Loons in the hot seat.

Ogden has been continuously associated with the Dodgers since 2003. It was also a Dodger partner from 1966-73. Tommy Lasorda managed it from 1966-8. Charlie Hough, Bill Russell, Bill Buckner, Steve Garvey and Bobby Valentine stopped by. There is history there. The old Ogden Dodgers played out John Affleck Park, a good high school stadium in some parts. The current Ogden Raptors are playing out Lindquist Field, with sightlines that are too beautiful and unique to be completely abandoned.

By classification, Ogden is one step lower than Great Lakes, a “low-A” team in Midland, Michigan. If all Rookie-league teams lose their Major League allies in the summer, Ogden would draw the short straw here. And yet I am not sure if it is a given. Much of the affiliate shuffle is driven by geography, and Utah is a shorter distance to Los Angeles than Michigan.

Ogden has also been a magnet attendance, and economy is the main driver behind the 2020 Great Minor League Contraction. Even though it’s a higher level of play, Great Lakes attracted fewer fans per game than Ogden in 2019. That’s a big point in Ogden’s favor. On the other hand, we’ve known for a year that Ogden is on the list of 42 teams for contraction, and the reason for that is pretty obvious: you can’t simply save the one team in every league that draws the most fans. You can, but in Ogden’s case, they might have to travel out of state to play the closest team in their league. The team would bleed gas money.

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Sadly, it looks like the other Pioneer League teams are dragging Ogden into unaffiliated obscurity. The Orem Owlz averaged 599 fans per game in 2019. Three of the eight teams were under 1,000. Part of MLB’s on-the-record explanation for the contracting of 42 teams was the quality of the facilities. I personally cannot speak of the quality of the Pioneer League facilities, but they often go hand in hand with presence.

Information about the affiliations of some teams in 2021 (namely the Yankees and the Astros) has already leaked. I haven’t heard anything specific about what the Dodgers intend to do, or when they will announce it. It’s a time-sensitive situation, so the decision has probably already been made. For the generations of fans who grew up watching Dodger prospects in Ogden, things don’t look right.

For the Dodgers organization, shaking the minor league again is another change of weather, but the same is true for any team. The Dodgers, more than their peers, have shown a great ability to endure institutional changes beyond their control.

-JP


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