Willy Aybar signs with Edmonton Capitals

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Willy Aybar, who went without a gig all winter and still didn’t have any takers despite the rash of injuries to National League third basemen, has signed with the Edmonton Capitals of the independent North American League.

The 28-year-old Aybar was a very solid hitter in part-time roles for the Rays in 2008 (.253/.327/.410 in 362 AB) and 2009 (.253/.331/.416 in 296 AB) before struggling last year (.230/.309/.344 in 270 AB).  Disappointed in his performance, the Rays declined his $2.2 million option for 2011 and then non-tendered him in December.

It was odd to see Aybar go all winter without signing.  It seems safe to assume he was holding out for a major league deal at something close to his 2010 salary of $1.35 million, but to not take a minor league deal in February looks like a big miscalculation now.  According to its rules page, North American League teams have a salary floor of $60,000 and a soft cap of $90,000.

(BTW – If you spent a lot of time following the minor leagues over the last 10 years and you’re kind of bored, give the NAL transactions page a look.  Seeing Chuck Tiffany and Mitch Einertson traded for some guy named Donald Brandt (who was promptly sold to another league) really brings back memories.)

There is, indeed, an MLB-to-Portland group

Associated Press
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On Monday, Baseball America reported that MLB is prepared to expand to Portland and Montreal. We talked about that at length yesterday. One of the most common responses to that piece has been “Portland? Really?”

There’s good reason for that response. Baseball-to-Portland has been talked about for years, but there has never been any real traction. Past initiatives have failed, significant public funding for a stadium seems to be a political impossibility and, heck, Portland wasn’t even interested in keeping its Triple-A team, turning its stadium into a much more successful soccer venue and not missing the Beavers all that much.

It would seem, however, that the reports are not mere speculation and there is a genuine baseball-to-Portland initiative afoot once again. From the Oregonian:

On Tuesday, former Trail Blazers broadcaster Mike Barrett confirmed to The Oregonian/OregonLive that he is part of the Portland group.

“I am officially involved with a campaign to bring Major League Baseball and a stadium development to Portland,” Barrett said. “There is also a formally organized, sophisticated and seasoned management group running this initiative. We will keep you fully apprised of any/all developments as this project progresses.”

One guy — a broadcaster no less — saying he’s part of a group is not exactly a major needle-mover, of course. But it does contrast with past Portland initiatives that have been well-publicized grassroots affairs. While those may have been more broad-based and while their public nature may have provided some refreshing transparency, the simple fact of professional sports ownership in the 21st century is that well-monied groups who play things close to the vest are more likely to make waves. We’re in an age when technocratic hedge fund-type guys make things happen in this arena, not in an age when flamboyant public personalities do.

None of which is to say that baseball in Portland is a lock or that expansion anywhere is a short term proposition. It’s just to note that, yeah, there is a bit more going on, it seems, than just pointing at a map and saying “yeah, a team would make sense here.”