On the surface, the proposed sale of the Class AAA Syracuse Chiefs to the New York Mets is a sports transaction but it's more about business and politics.
It sounds too good to be true. Syracuse baseball fans will be able to support a parent team that actually plays in New York state; the first time in more than 40 years since the Chiefs left the Yankees for the Blue Jays. It makes geographic sense since the Mets' Class AA team is just an hour down I-81 in Binghamton. It's a hour flight from Syracuse to Queens. Players that come through NBT Ballpark will someday be in Citi Field.
And unlike the Blue Jays and Washington Nationals (who the Chiefs are affiliated with for the time being), there are actually a good number of Mets fans in the Syracuse area.
When the New York Mets played their inaugural season in 1962, the franchise was affiliated w…
What could be bad about this?
If it was just the Mets becoming the Chiefs' parent club, nothing. But since the community-owned Chiefs are being sold to the privately-owned Mets (pending Chiefs shareholder approval), it changes everything.
The Mets said all the right things at the introductory press conference but the key statement is that they're committed to keeping the Chiefs in Syracuse until 2025. After that the Mets could move the Chiefs, possibly closer to New York, or sell the team to a private group which could also move them.
The Chiefs are ultimately a business and as we all know, a business has to make a profit to survive. The Mets can't lose money here. The Chiefs have lost a lot of money over the past few years. Since former Auburn Doubleday general manager Jason Smorol took over as the team's GM the Chiefs have started to turn things around and made a small profit in 2016. Keeping Smorol is vital, he is the face of the Chiefs and the community has taken notice of his hard work.
It's very similar to what our community-owned Doubledays have been through. The team is on the market but the city has said any buyer has to keep the Doubledays at Falcon Park. As far as we know, there have been no credible offers.
What happens to the Chiefs may be what we could happen to the Doubledays if the team is ever sold to private ownership.
Look, I want to see Class AAA baseball stay in Syracuse but you can't be oblivious to the money aspect.
The Mets have tried this upstate thing before and failed when they put their Class AAA team in Buffalo. The owners of the Bisons weren't crazy about losing teams and had a sour relationship with the Mets front office.
The Chiefs won't have to worry about the latter but Syracuse is a city that likes winners. Look at Syracuse University sports — basketball is one of the top draws in the entire country and football can barely draw 30,000 a game.
Promotions are big in minor league baseball but a winning team will be huge in helping the Chiefs succeed. The Mets' recent record is not good and their farm system isn't ranked highly by Baseball America, a magazine that covers the minors.
That will have to change and fast. The Nationals haven't fielded many good teams since coming to Syracuse in 2009. Can the Mets field a winning team in Syracuse when they take over in 2019?
Then there's the political aspect of this. Gov. Andrew Cuomo came to Syracuse Tuesday to participate in the ceremonies. Cuomo and U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer each issued statements and both politicians used tired baseball cliches.
"This partnership will help attract new and old fans alike, and support economic growth in the Syracuse community for years to come," Cuomo said. "It is a home run that ensures the Chiefs stay right where they belong while the next generation of amazin' greats is fostered right here in Central New York."
"With Syracuse's rich history and love of baseball, the Mets purchasing the Syracuse Chiefs is a grand slam for the entire community," Schumer said.
My hunch is New York is throwing some state funds to the Mets to sweeten the sale, whether it's ballpark improvements or a tax break. I don't think baseball should be considered "economic growth." It's always good press when a politician can take credit for keeping the national past-time in its current home.
By 2026, we'll find out whether this sale was just about politics and money.