With all the talk recently of Major League Baseball returning to Montreal, I will detail the perfect farm system for the team when and if they come to be. First things first, congratulations to the fans in Montreal show showing up (96,000 plus!) for the two Blue Jays vs. Reds exhibitions a couple of weeks ago. Hopefully a stadium plan soon surfaces and Major League Baseball will be back in Montreal sooner later than later.
Ideally, a Montreal team will come as an expansion team instead of relocation. First reason, we do not want to see anybody (read: Tampa & Oakland) lose their teams. Expos fans know all about this. Second, MLB will be better off with 32 teams (either two divisions of eight or four divisions of four in each league) than with the current 15 teams per league setup. Third, it will be easier to set up a farm system from scratch than inherit someone else’s then modify it to you own liking.
I will go through each classification and identity where each farm club should go. Keep in mind the Expos 2.0 should try to become a national brand by placing farm clubs across Canada. Also keep in mind this is the PERFECT setup for a Montreal club and will in all likelihood never happen and will remain fantasy.
AAA – Ottawa – International League
The Ottawa Lynx existed from 1993 to 2007. They were the IL affiliate of the Expos 1.0 for their first ten seasons, including the 1995 championship team. The team was a success at the box office in the early years, before attendance plummeted in the late 1990’s. This was partially due to the lack of fortunes of the big club. Having a 10,322 seat ballpark and a metropolitan area population of 1,236,324, there is no reason a properly marketed club affiliated with a Montreal club (located a two-hour drive away) could be a success in this market. The close proximity to Montreal is a plus for the big club as it will be easy to call players up (or send down) when the need arises.
AA- Quebec City – Eastern League
The Quebec Carnavals existed from 1971-77, exclusively as an affiliate of the Expos. The team was known as the Metros for the final two seasons (1976-77). The Carnavals/Metros were not a success on the field, managing just one playoff appearance in their seven seasons. Seeing the last two times MLB expanded (1993 & 1998), the Eastern League was the chosen one for the AA expansion teams. This means that when MLB decides to go to 32 teams (including Montreal, fingers crossed) the EL will not be the league receiving the expansion teams, so in order for this to work Quebec will have to buy and relocated and existing franchise (I hear Binghamton is available). Needless to say having an in province affiliate will help promote the team in Quebec.
High A – Somewhere on the Gulf Coast – Florida State League
There are three “High A” leagues; Florida State, California and Carolina; so having a team in Canada, or even near the border, is not an option. The next best opportunity for Montreal is in Florida, namely the Gulf Coast area (no city in particular). A Montreal will likely have Spring Training in Florida as opposed to Arizona, this will enable to team to double up and have their A affiliate and Spring Training in the same ballpark. A little known fact about the Grapefruit League schedule is teams who train on the Gulf Coast tend to play only one another and teams on the east coast do the same. Seeing that the Blue Jays, Yankees & Red Sox all train on the Gulf Coast, a Montreal team can generate some hype by playing them in the spring. Especially if the Expos 2.0 end up in the American League as division rivals of said teams. The Expos used to train in West Palm Beach and Melbourne, so they rarely played the Jays in Spring Training, usually if they did it was a fly away series held in Toronto or Montreal.
Low A – London – Midwest League
Currently the Midwest League has never had a team in Canada. But London is only a three-hour drive away from Lansing and it is quite frankly the only real option if they want a Canadian team at this level (the other Low A League is the South Atlantic League). It may be treating a little bit on the Blue Jays (and Tigers) territory but, so be it, I am sure if given a chance Londoners would support a minor league club (they have not had an affiliated team since the 1989-1993 London Tigers. The city has had independent ball since then (Monarchs of the CBL and the amazingly named London Werewolves of the Frontier League). Labatt Park is the oldest baseball grounds in the world, having hosted baseball since 1877!
Short Season A – Moncton – New York Penn League
Here is where the Maritimes can come into play. The New York Penn League is somewhat close by (closest team is in Vermont), but if two of more teams come to the area then it would provide a travel partner for the other and NYPL teams here could be viable. Ideally, Toronto will play along here and place a club in Halifax and Montreal would take Moncton (French connection). Here the two Canadian clubs can have a mini-rivalry within the Maritimes. The league has operated in Canada before with teams in Ontario (St. Catherine’s, Hamilton & Welland). If the Maritimes are not an option, then the Expos 2.0 could always affiliate with the Vermont Lock Monsters, originally an affiliate of the Expos 1.0. This would give them an in, although a small one, to the New England market.
Rookie – Somewhere in Alberta – Pioneer League
Once upon a time, Edmonton, Calgary, Medicine Hat & Lethbridge all had minor league teams. Today they have none, the collegiate summer Western Major Baseball League operates in all these cities except Calgary. Edmonton is probably too far of a commute here (unless they double or triple up other western cities), so one of the southern markets will be best. Calgary is the bigger city, but a league like the Pioneer League may do better in a small city like Lethbridge (lost their PL team in 1998) or Medicine Hat (home of the Blue Jays for 25 years).
Then you have your complex leagues (operated out of spring training complexes) and Latin summer leagues in the Dominican and Venezuela. Neither of which will be discussed here as they play in front of very few fans night to night.
There you have it, an ideal Montreal farm system would have teams in the west (Pioneer League), Ontario (Midwest & International Leagues), Quebec (Eastern League) and the Maritimes (New York Penn League). There would also be an affiliate at a Spring Training Site on the Gulf Coast of Florida. In order to become a true national brand, the Expos 2.0 should try to put as many affiliates in Canada as possible. This would raise awareness of the team from coast to coast and would also help with TV ratings (and revenues!) and merchandise sales.