After minor league contraction took place, several MiLB teams are fighting back against their former big league affiliates. About a month ago, I wrote about the big market Yankees being sued by their Staten Island farm team. Now another big market MLB team is being sued by a longtime affiliate. The Tri-City ValleyCats are suing the Houston Astros.
After being an Astros affiliate for 18 seasons, The ValleyCats found out in December that they were not being tendered a partnership contract, and would be cut loose. This means they would incur the additional expense of becoming an independent team and playing for their own players and coaches. In addition to having to find a new league to compete in, and draw fans, which is a bit tough in a pandemic. It's a tough card to be dealt, but 40 other MiLB teams were dealt a similar card.
The ValleyCats play in New York, pretty far away from Houston. They play in Troy, which forms a triangle between Albany and Schenectady (Which forms the Tri-City area). As they play in upstate New York, they don't have a lot of immediate competition from the Yankees or Mets. Since 2006, The team has averaged nearly 150,000 in annual attendance, placing them 3rd in the NY Penn League most years. For now, they've announce they will join the Frontier League, which may ring a bell to you as Illinois has four teams in that league: Schaumburg Boomers, Joliet Slammers, Windy City Thunderbolts and Southern IL Miners.
Even though the ValleyCats have a general blueprint for the future, they are hitting back hard against the Houston Astros. There is a $15 million dollar lawsuit which has been filed, reported by Mark Singlais of Chron. In that lawsuit, the team contends that the Astros relied on some shady tactics to force their hand at minor league contraction. In his article, he brings up some really contentious things being outlined in the lawsuit. Here are the things that stood out to me:
The ValleyCats were cut because they were not owned by the Astros themselves or active politicians.
The ValleyCats were not due to be cut according to the November 2019 leaked list.
The ValleyCats' longtime owner, Bill Gladstone died in April 2020. In May, Comisioner Rob Manfred emailed his condolences. In the very same email, he issued a threat saying that it would be unwise to make a public statement about MiLB contraction.
The ValleyCats are being represented by the same two law firms — Weil, Gotshal & Manges and Berg & Androphy — that are handling a similar suit brought by another recently disaffiliated minor league team, the Staten Island Yankees.
As you may recall, in the Staten Island Yankee suit, that team is suing their former parent club for $160m, nearly 10 times the amount cited in the ValleyCats lawsuit. Why the difference? I'm not sure. We could speculate that it would make an out of court settlement a bit more feasible, but I'm no lawyer. It's a key detail, something to keep an eye on.
For now, a big part of me is happy to see the disgraceful, rule breaking Houston Astros being sued. $15 million might be a smaller hit to a big market team, but if the ValleyCats find success in their efforts, then it may open the door for the other 39 teams who got the axe. I'm rooting for the Minor League Baseball teams. MLB used a worldwide crisis to force through their hand, and baseball is worse for it.