After more than a year of speculation in baseball circles that the day was inevitable, the Buffalo Bisons were finally allowed to talk to the Toronto Blue Jays on Sunday.
And all indications are that the teams will forge a new player development contract to make the Jays the Herd's new parent sometime this week.
Bisons General Manager Mike Buczkowski and team President Jon Dandes spoke Sunday morning with Charlie Wilson, the Blue Jays' director of minor-league operations.
Buczkowski told The News he and Dandes were expecting to speak to Toronto GM Alex Anthopoulos and team President Paul Beeston later Sunday or today.
Bisons owners Bob and Mindy Rich are also expected to take part via conference call.
Sunday was the first of a 15-day window teams are allotted to change their affiliations. The Bisons requested permission from the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues to discuss a new parent club to replace the New York Mets, with whom they've been connected the last four seasons.
Similarly, the Blue Jays filed a request with Major League Baseball to potentially relocate their Triple-A team from Las Vegas, where it has also been since the '09 season.
The Bisons had the third-worst record among Triple-A teams in their four years with the Mets, finishing 67-76 this year and watching attendance at Coca-Cola Field drop to about 515,000, the lowest in the ballpark's 25-year history. They did not sniff the playoffs in the four years and collapsed over the final three months this season after a 31-22 start.
"I would never question the Mets' effort, especially this year," Buczkowski said. "They made a real effort to sign players, to keep our roster full. They did a lot of things to make us successful. It didn't just translate to victories."
For their part, the Blue Jays want to get their Triple-A affiliate out of the Pacific Coast League and much closer to home. Buffalo is the closest Triple-A city to Toronto. Buczkowski said Bob Rich will likely speak to the Mets, and the Blue Jays will talk to Las Vegas officials. But those are both expected to be nothing more than courtesy calls.
"It all comes down to geography, more than anything else," Anthopoulos told Toronto reporters prior to Sunday's game against the Boston Red Sox in Rogers Centre. "... At this stage we want to at least take a look. .... Vegas has been great."
Most Triple-A players don't talk much about where their parents will play but Blue Jays pitcher Chad Beck, who spent most of the year in Las Vegas and appeared in the Triple-A All-Star Game here July 11, said there was definitely chatter in Vegas about Buffalo.
"It was a great city with a great facility," Beck said of Buffalo. "The locker room was very nice and I was in the visiting locker room. And the Jumbotron in center field was simply amazing for a minor-league stadium.
"One of the hard things about the minors is where am I going to eat before the game, what am I going to do after the game. We were really impressed about how there were tons of places being right there. The location was just perfect. I loved that experience. It was amazing. Five-star."
The Blue Jays have often kept pitching prospects with their Double-A team in Manchester, N.H., rather than put them in the thin air of Vegas, where home runs fly out of Cashman Field and groundballs scoot through the heat-baked infield. That would certainly change.
"Players aren't normally too concerned about where you are in the minors, but I know players are excited for this," Beck said. "If there's a need for you to come up for a couple days, it's a lot easier to jump in a car and drive to Buffalo than fly six hours across country from Las Vegas or a place like Sacramento. You get [to Toronto], you're jet-lagged for a day or two. Buffalo would be 100 percent better for everybody."
Buczkowski said the Bisons will tell the Blue Jays they want to have winning products on the field but said he's concerned about some of the discussion, notably on Mets-centric blogs, that focused on an obsession with that topic.
"People say winning but I say it's to be competitive," he said. "There were a lot of times the last four years we were not. We get a bad rap that we're demanding a championship team. That's not what we're saying. We need a competitive team. Win more than you lose. Play some games in August that mean something."