Minor league spending

By Jason Wojciechowski on July 17, 2010 at 9:25 PM

David Laurila at Baseball Prospectus had this interview with John Birtwell, a minor league coach way down the chain in the Marlins' organization. He's new this year, and Laurila asked him a question about what it was like working for the Marlins. He gave a pretty standard answer ("they're great!"), but then alluded to "tight-fisted people" that weren't Marlins people sometimes hampering things. Laurila wondered about this as follows:

DL: Can you clarify what the organization and affiliates are responsible for, respectively?

JB: That's where we often get clouded, because the parent club, the Marlins, seem to take care of our guys pretty well. They pay the players and offer a lot of our equipment, and things like that. But [with the affiliates] when it comes to hotel arrangements and maintenance at the ballpark, sometimes those things leave something to be desired. The uniforms might be too tight; most of the uniforms we have are very old. Again, it's not lack of effort from some people, but then again, today for example, we had to leave at one o'clock in the morning for a game that we're playing on the same day. There was some kind of disconnect, because I don't think that was the Marlins decision as much as it might have been an affiliate decision.

That's really interesting to me because it highlights the weird nature of baseball's minor leagues. Uniforms may not be the biggest deal in the world, but field maintenance and ballpark accommodations (training rooms, for instance) seem pretty important. A poorly kept outfield could result in injuries, after all, and subpar facilities might leave the training staff struggling to do its job if the club is faced with a rash of injured players. Travel is also important -- tired players, players stiff from a long bus ride or a poor night of sleep, might be more prone to hurt themselves at game time.

What this story illustrates, then, is a major league team might look to change an affiliation. Considerations like having your AAA team close to your major league team are important, but so is having an affiliate that doesn't cut corners with assets that you're paying for them to take care of. I've read writers discuss the affiliation picture from the perspective of the minor league clubs: a AA owner obviously wants to be affiliated with a team that's going to send a bevy of exciting, good, high-profile prospects through, players that the team can promote as alumni down the road and that will draw crowds while they're on the team. This side of the picture, though, of the major league organization's needs for the minor league team to not be (forgive me) bush league, is one I hadn't seen before.