Young affiliation win-win for Blue Jays, Bisons
Partnership with Buffalo began in 2013, has paid dividends for organization
TORONTO -- The Blue Jays' affiliation with Triple-A Buffalo is barely a year old, but it can already be considered an overwhelming success for both sides.
The Bisons' attendance is on the rise while the Blue Jays have been able to take advantage of the close proximity between the two cities to make roster moves relatively easy.
In fact, the first year went so well that last August, both sides decided to extend their contract through the 2016 season. The partnership is only expected to grow in the years to come.
"The thing that struck me the most is that it's a partnership more than anything," Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos said late last week. "There is so much give and take that goes beyond whether we're winning games.
"The word 'family' gets thrown around a ton in sports and in life, but I think it's as close to that type of relationship as you can hope for. There's respect on both sides. You like who you work with, day in and day out."
The Bisons enjoyed somewhat of a resurgence in Buffalo last year. The club went from averaging 7,370 fans per game in 2012 to 8,273 fans the following season. The additional 903 fans per game was the largest year-to-year increase in the history of Coca-Cola Field, which dates back to 1988.
It's difficult to pinpoint exactly how much of the increase was from Blue Jays fans that reside in southern Ontario, but it wouldn't be a stretch to think that cross-border traffic played an integral role. According to a Bisons club representative, Buffalo's website traffic was approximately 30-33 percent Canadian.
Canadian business for ticket sales and merchandise also saw a rather drastic rise. Canadians accounted for approximately 8-10 percent of the Bisons' business in 2012, but that number rose to upwards of 25 percent in 2013. Those numbers are expected to increase even more this year as the organization plans to hold several special events to attract fans south of the border.
Perhaps the biggest impact on Buffalo's overall numbers will come with an improved product on the field. Though the club will have to wait until the end of March to figure out its roster, there's a strong chance a large group of high-ceiling pitchers will be making their way to Buffalo: Drew Hutchison, Kyle Drabek, Marcus Stroman, Sean Nolin and perhaps Aaron Sanchez.
"We think it's going to be a more talented group," Anthopoulos said. "The one exciting part, is that we had to sign basically an entire starting rotation of Minor League free agents [last year], because either trades or some of our better prospects were at [Class A] and weren't necessarily going to get up here until the end of the year, plus the guys we had coming back from Tommy John [surgery]. We expect it to be a young rotation, talented rotation, with a lot of upside."
Fans of Buffalo will always put an emphasis on winning, but from Toronto's perspective, it's the development of prospects that obviously remains the top priority. Anthopoulos takes pride in the success of his Minor League affiliates -- but not if it comes at the expense of his young players.
That's one reason why the Blue Jays decided to go with Gary Allenson as their new manager in Buffalo. Allenson replaced Marty Brown -- who recently resigned after not being offered a big league coaching job -- after spending last year with Double-A New Hampshire.
There's a series of prospects who will be making the jump from New Hampshire to Buffalo in 2014, and now Allenson will be along for the ride. He wants to win but clearly understands what his main role is within the Blue Jays' organization.
"It's different every game," Allenson said. "You have guys that are your prospects out there, that you know you're going to leave out there. If it comes down to whether you're going to develop a player or win at the Minor League level, if you have to choose between one or the other, you're going to develop the prospect. You're not worried about that. Hope that things turn out for the best.
"I saw my overall record -- I've won over 1,100 games but I've also lost over 1,200. It's all about what you've got. You do the best you can with what you've got."