Pirates to swap Class A teams with Reds

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Here is a new twist on the wheeling and dealing Pirates: They are swapping high Class A minor league affiliates.

Team officials announced yesterday that they are in the final stages of completing an arrangement in which they purchase Cincinnati's Florida State League franchise in Sarasota and move it 15 miles up the Gulf Coast to McKechnie Field and their Pirate City base in Bradenton.

In turn, the Reds, who are leaving Sarasota for a new spring-training home in Arizona, buy Carolina League affiliate Lynchburg, with whom the Pirates had one year left on a two-year contract.

Chuck Murphy, the FSL chairman, president and treasurer, said he expected at least the required two-thirds of his other 11 teams' directors to approve the move Nov. 10 when they hold their fall meeting. If it is any indication of an anticipated approval, the Pirates aim to hold a Nov. 11 news conference in Bradenton to announce their new affiliate's nickname, among other things.

"Here in the Florida State League, it really is a baseball decision, hopefully, relocating the franchise to Bradenton to get our development staff and our scouting staff more eyes on the club ... and to rehab our players [there]," Pirates President Frank Coonelly said. "And to get us the stability" in a minor league realm where every few years affiliations may change and teams may move.

As for the Pirates owning and operating a team in a spring-training venue with major league facilities handy, much like the Philadelphia Phillies, New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays, he added that it makes sense as a business decision, as well. The FSL is not known as a profitable league, playing a 140-game schedule in Florida spots without as many summertime tourists or residents, but Coonelly said, "If you break even, you will be doing better than a majority of the Florida State League teams."

Lights added to historic McKechnie Field two years ago allow for a swap that the Pirates couldn't bring to fruition in 2008, when they signed another two-year affiliation deal with Lynchburg, their high Class A partner for 15 years.

Pirates player-development director Kyle Stark noted that such a move also would mean warm-weather games from the onset (lessening risks on pitchers), a consolidation of spring trainings for the high Class A club and the Pirates, plus one stop for a player to recover from injury and perform his rehab assignment.

The rookie Gulf Coast League Pirates will continue to play without admission charges at Pirate City and occasional night games, when the FSL team is away from McKechnie.

Pirates officials maintain there is no difference in competition level and challenge between the Carolina League and the FSL. Boston and Houston swapped affiliates in this manner in 1999.

NOTE -- The Pirates claimed left-handed reliever Justin Thomas, 2-4 with a 4.48 ERA and six saves in Class AAA Tacoma this year, off waivers from Seattle and made him player No. 39 on their 40-man roster.

Chuck Finder can be reached at cfinder@post-gazette.com .


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