Eric Fisher of Sports Business Journal reports that the single-A Dayton Dragons are being sold by current owner Mandalay Baseball to a company called Palisades Arcadia Baseball. That’s not a big deal. Minor league teams sell all the time. What is a big deal is the price: $40 million, which Fisher says is the highest price ever paid for a minor league team.
Now, the Dragons are not your run-of-the-mill minor league teams. As Fisher notes, they have the longest sellout streak in the history of U.S. sports. They set the record in 2011 with their 815th straight sellout. It’s still going strong. In May they sold out their 1,000th straight game. While only a Midwest League team, their ballpark holds over 8,000 fans, which means that they draw more than just about every minor league team at every level. Usually only one or two Triple-A teams do better in overall attendance.
But still: sellouts or not, they are just a single-A team that can only charge single-A prices for tickets, beer and big foam fingers. Making that $40 million price tag pretty darn incredible. To put it in perspective, the Steinbrenner family bought the Yankees for $8.7 million in the early 70s. Current Phillies’ ownership bought that team in 1980 for $30 million. Current Twins ownership bought the team in 1984 for $44 million. Major league franchise prices have gone through the roof, but it wasn’t too terribly long ago when the price the Dragons’ current owners are getting was what you might expect to pay for a big league club.
But, for as interesting as this news is, let’s not allow it to make us lose sight of a couple of immutable facts: (1) Baseball is Dying, You Guys; and (2) Minor League Sports aren’t Very Successful.
Phil Hughes was officially designated for assignment by the Twins on Tuesday, the culmination of multiple injury-plagued seasons and poor performance.
Things couldn’t have started out much better for Hughes in Minnesota. The former Yankees hurler joined the Twins on a three-year, $24 million contract in December of 2013 and reeled off a 3.52 ERA over 32 starts during his first season with the club. He set the MLB record (which still stands, by the way) for single season strikeout-to-walk ratio and even received some downballot Cy Young Award consideration. The big year resulted in the two sides ripping up their previous agreement with a new five-year, $58 million deal, but it was all downhill after that.
Hughes took a step back with a 4.40 ERA in 2015 and struggled with a 5.95 ERA over 11 starts and one relief appearance in 2016 before undergoing surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome. He wasn’t any better upon his return last year, putting up a 5.87 ERA in nine starts and five relief appearances. Hughes missed time with a biceps issue and required a thoracic outlet revision surgery in August. He began this year on the disabled list with an oblique injury, only to put up a 6.75 ERA over two starts and five relief appearances before the Twins decided to turn the page this week.
Hughes is still owed the remainder of his $13.2 million salary for this year and another $13.2 million next year. The deal didn’t work out as anyone would have hoped, but unfortunately this is another case of health just not cooperating.