Yankees No More: They’re the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders now

Via Donnie Collins: The Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre franchise has officially changed its nickname from Yankees to RailRiders (one word). The new name and uniforms were unveiled at an event tonight. Here’s the new primary logo.

The Yankees reportedly asked their minor league affiliates to drop the “Yankees” nickname around this time last year, but so far only the Triple-A squad has obliged. Fans were able to vote for the team’s new nickname, and Collins says RailRiders easily won out over Blast, Black Diamond Bears, Porcupines, Trolley Frogs, and Fireflies. Porcupines came in second, hence their inclusion in the logo. Trolley Frogs got hosed, man.

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Triple-A SWB Yankees sale finally final

(Photo via The Scranton Times-Tribune)

The sale of the Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees franchise is finally complete, reports David Singleton of The Scranton Times-Tribune. Lackawanna County approved the sale on Thursday following more than two years of political wrangling. The team was sold for $14.6M to SWB Yankees LLC, a joint venture between the Yankees and Mandalay Bay. They had passed on an option to buy to the team for $13M in 2007, when the Yankees moved their Triple-A operations out of Columbus and into Northeast Pennsylvania.

Extensive renovations at PNC Field can finally begin now that the sale is complete, with major demolition starting yesterday. The $43.3M project is forcing the team to play all of its home games on the road this season. Last month we heard that construction had to begin no later than April 1st to ensure the facility is ready for the start of next season, but the park is expected to be ready in time following the sale approval. The Times-Tribune has some new renderings like the one you see above.

The sale locks SWB Yankees LLC into a 30-year stadium lease that could run as long as 50 years, so don’t expect the team’s Triple-A affiliate to move anytime soon. Scranton/Wilkes-Barre is about as close to the Bronx as the Yankees could get their top minor league club, a two-hour drive if you run into some traffic. The season-long road trip is terrible for the players and prospects currently in Triple-A, but hopefully the sale and new facility sets things up well for the organization moving forward.

Triple-A stadium situation could linger into 2013

The Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Empire State Yankees will be stuck on a season-long road trip this year, playing “home” game in six different cities as PNC Field is renovated. Apparently the renovation is actually a total replacement, as Josh Leventhal reports that the current stadium will be torn down and replaced with a new $40M facility. That’s great, but the problem is that demolition must start on April 1st in order for the place to be ready for next season.

According to Leventhal, the $14.5M sale of the team from Lackawanna county to the Yankees and Mandalay Bay is still being finalized. Those funds are needed for the new facility, so construction can’t begin until a deal is hammered out. International League president Randy Mobley says the two sides are still negotiating, but “with this construction start deadline rapidly approaching, it is all going to become pretty evident, pretty quickly, what is or isn’t going to happen.”

There is no contingency plan in place if the stadium is not ready in time for Opening Day 2013. “This is a one-year arrangement, not to be repeated,” said Mobley of the team’s unfortunate 2012 plans. It’s bad enough that some of the organization’s best prospects will be stuck on the road all year with the Triple-A squad, doing something similar in 2013 would be a disaster. Everyone involved — especially the Yankees — has every reason to want to get a deal done so construction can start on time, and I suspect it will.

SWB Yankees to be renamed Empire State Yankees for 2012

Via Mike Ashmore, the Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees will be renamed the Empire State Yankees for the 2012 season. The club will play all of its home games on the road this summer because of extensive renovations to PNC Field, including 60 games throughout New York. The new logos can be seen here and here, and will be featured on the team’s caps this season. They’ll go back to being the SWB Yanks in 2013. Pretty neat, guess I have to buy a hat while they’re available.

Sorting out the Triple-A Scranton roster

The everyday catcher at Triple-A, finally. (Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

Now more than ever, clubs are using their Triple-A affiliate as an extension of the big league roster. The Yankees are no different, so you’ll see some spare parts filling out the Triple-A Scranton roster around the actual prospects his summer. There will be an extra outfielder and infielder, as well as a horde of spare arms. I don’t mean the kind of arms with long-term potential, I mean the disposable kind that can come up, get thrown to the wolves for a few days, then be cast aside and released. The Buddy Carlyle, Brett Tomko, and Amaury Sanit types. Those guys serve a purpose, albeit a small one.

The core of this year’s Triple-A team will be a deep pitching staff, particularly the starters. If everyone makes it through Spring Training healthy and the Yankees don’t need any of their young guys on the Opening Day roster, they’ll have to figure out how to squeeze six starters into five Triple-A rotation spots. The bullpen figures to boast a few power arms and a few savvy veterans, some of whom we’ll surely see at some point this coming summer.

Since we’ve sufficiently analyzed the big league roster to death, let’s take a second to look at what the Triple-A roster might look like when the season begins. Remember, it’s only a 24-man roster down in Triple-A, so there’s one less spot to play around with. Considering how infrequently the 25th man plays in the bigs, it’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Position Players (12)

Everyday Lineup: C Austin Romine, 1B Jorge Vazquez, 2B Corban Joseph, SS Ramiro Pena, 3B Brandon Laird, OF Colin Curtis, OF Dewayne Wise, OF Cole Garner
Bench: C Gus Molina, IF Kevin Russo, OF Dan Brewer, UTIL Jayson Nix

The DH will rotate in all likelihood, allowing Russo, Brewer and Nix to get semi-regular at-bats. Laird figures to see the majority of his time at third base, but he’ll also play some first base and left field. Curtis and Garner will see time in all three outfield spots, as will Brewer off the bench. JoVa will get the occasional start at third. It’s all about developing and maintaining versatility for these guys.

Speaking of Vazquez, there have been unconfirmed rumors that he may flee for Japan (where he’d make considerably more money), which would open the door for someone like Bradley Suttle or Cody Johnson to get their first taste of life above Double-A. A minor league free agent could also be an option for that spot, perhaps someone like Dan Johnson or even Nick Johnson. That would be kinda neat.

The two wildcards here are Justin Maxwell and Chris Dickerson, both of whom are out of minor league options and will need to clear waivers to be sent down at any point next season. If one of those guys manages to make it through waivers and starts the season in Triple-A, it’ll likely push Brewer back to Double-A. It would shock me if both clear, but in that case the Yankees would probably just release Wise and send Brewer back to Tripe-A.

Reegie Corona is still in the organization after finally being taken off the 40-man roster a few months ago, and he’s a prime phantom DL candidate. That means he’ll remain with the team but not be on the active roster, instead stashed away on the DL with a fake injury and ready to be activated whenever someone else actually does get hurt. Doug Bernier could be destined for the same fate as well.

Pitching Staff (12)

Another Opening Day start for Phelps? (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Rotation: Hector Noesi, Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances, David Phelps, Adam Warren
Bullpen: D.J. Mitchell, George Kontos, Mike O’Connor, Matt Daley, Kevin Whelan, Adam Miller, ???

I’m working under the assumption that none of these guys will be needed in the big league rotation when the regular season begins, so everyone will get jammed in Triple-A. That creates a bit of a logjam because we’ve got six starters for five spots. Brian Cashman indicated during the Winter Meetings that Noesi will start somewhere (either in Triple-A or the bigs) in 2012, and they’re very unlikely to bump either Banuelos or Betances into the bullpen or back to Double-A. That leaves two spots for Phelps, Warren, and Mitchell.

As part of last week’s Yankees Top Ten Prospects Chat (subs. req’d), Baseball America’s John Manuel said Mitchell is “still viewed as more of a reliever long-term inside the organization,” mentioning him as a candidate for a “Ramiro Mendoza kind of swing role.” I called him a relief candidate back before the 2010 season, so it’s probably not a terrible time to make the conversion given that he has a full year of Triple-A starting under his belt. He can still work multiple innings out of the bullpen, and whenever one of the starters gets inevitably called up, he can step right into the rotation. Assuming he isn’t the one called up, of course.

Kontos and Whelan are the veterans in the bullpen, at least in the sense that they were with the team last year. The latter figures to again serve as closer. O’Connor and Daley are on minor league contracts and are ticketed for Triple-A, as is Miller barring an absolutely dominant camp and a surprise spot on the big league team’s Opening Day roster. I’m fairly certain that he’ll get some regular innings in the minors before being considered for a big league spot later on during the summer, assuming he pitches well enough to deserve the look.

That ??? bullpen spot is very much up for grabs. It could go to Ryan Pope, who started last year at this level, or possibly even Pat Venditte. Craig Heyer and Cory Arbiso are also possibilities. Hideki Okajima is on a minor league deal, but at the moment I expect him to make the Yankees roster to open the season. There’s always the minor league free agent pool, as the Yankees could bring back someone like Josh Schmidt or Eric Wordkemper, or go for some new blood instead. There is no shortage of arms still available on the open market (RHP, LHP).

Update: Cesar Cabral is also a Triple-A relief option, albeit in a roundabout way. Since he’s a Rule 5 Draft pick for the second time, he can elect free agency rather than be returned to his original team (the Red Sox) if the Yankees don’t want him. In that case, they can simply re-sign him and send him down. The Diamondbacks did the exact same thing with former Yankees farmhand Zach Kroenke.

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The neat thing about Triple-A baseball is that even if the Opening Day roster ends up looking like it does in this post, it won’t matter a month into the season. There will be injuries, promotions, demotions, veterans opting out of contracts, you name it. The roster turnover at this level is insane, upwards of 70 transactions a year. It’s not enough to be 25 men deep these days, the Yankees need this depth tucked away in Triple-A to serve as viable replacements for those “just in case” moments.