Name: Jim
Location: Chester, Virginia, United States

My astrological sign is Leo, but does it matter? It has absolutely nothing to do about me. Astronomy, astrology, whatever.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Baseball Musical Chairs

It happened sometime in the spring of this year (2006). The Ottawa Lynx AAA baseball team was bought out by two Philadelphia businessmen, Joseph Finley and Craig Stein. They reached an arrangement with the Philadelphia Phillies by which the Lynx would become the Phillies AAA farm team, which would move to Allentown in 2008, when a new stadium there is built. Allentown and Philadelphia are only 54 miles apart as the crow flies.

Would you believe that just this little double play by these two men would cause a free for all, and then a five-way swaperoo of AAA minor league teams among the majors?

When the Scranton Wilkes-Barre Red Barons, the current Phillies farm team, found out about this, their fans were upset. They wanted to find another major league team to be their parent team. The early word was that this team would wind up being a Baltimore farm team. Seems logical. Swap teams. But the fans clamored for something better. They appealed to major league teams all over the place, and especially the ones in New York City. Pretty soon both the Yankees and Mets became interested and they jumped in the fray.

Discussions between the Red Barons and the Yankees got the Columbus Clippers, present farm team of the Yankees, worried. Columbus started appealing all over the place, and the Orioles and Mets showed an interest. The Norfolk Tides became annoyed. Actually they were annoyed for some time. They did not like their parent team, the Mets. The Mets ignored them. So they took this ruckus as an opportunity to search for something better. This is another case of a minor team turning its back on its parent major league team, with the first one being the Rochester Red Wings' rejection of the Baltimore Orioles in 2002. To top it off, the Washington Nationals did not want any more of the New Orleans Zephyrs. Too far, it seemed. So they jumped in the fray.

Today the whole thing settled out to what amounts to a five-way circle-around among the five major league teams. The Phillies got their Lynx, which will become the Allentown Allies, I suppose. The parent team of the Lynx, the Baltimore Orioles, got into an agreement with the Norfolk Tides. (How strange. The Tides, rejecting the Mets, picked the team that was rejected by the Red Wings.) The New York Mets got left out and were forced to sign with the New Orleans Zephyrs. That's even farther than Washington. The Washington Nationals got into a deal with the Columbus Clippers, and the New York Yankees got their team in Scranton Wilkes-Barre to complete the cycle.

I am wondering why the Mets settled for the Zephyrs. Couldn't they have gone after the Durham Bulls, which would have resulted in the Zephyrs getting something closer also - the Tampa Bay Devil Rays?

So how does this affect the travel budget of these pairs of teams for players and other officials going back and forth between the major league city and the AAA city? This year, the total of the crow-miles for the five pairs of teams was 2267 miles. After the swap, the total miles will be 2160. So they saved some mileage. They will save even more after the Lynx move to Allentown; the miles will go down to 1830.

But this is not the best they could achieve. If the ten teams had gotten together and picked the assignment that minimizes the crow-mile total, they would have paired as follows:

Baltimore Orioles - Columbus Clippers
Washington Nationals - New Orleans Zephyrs
Philadelphia Phillies - Norfolk Tides
New York Mets - Ottawa Lynx (and then Allentown Allies)
New York Yankees - Scranton Wilkes-Barre Red Barons

The total crow-miles would now be 1983, and after the move to Allentown, they would be 1723. The optimal assignment is the same regardless of the location of the Lynx.

This shows that major league teams use other criteria for locating their minor league teams than distance (hence fuel) costs. With shortages of oil coming up, they should have considered the minimal-mile arrangement above.

By the way, I tried this for all 30 pairs of major and AAA minor league teams a year ago, and published the result in Blogtrek. I thought it strange that it assigned the Twins to the Norfolk Tides and the Columbus Clippers to the Milwaukee Brewers. Today I found that I had entered the latitude and longitude incorrectly for Columbus and Norfolk. In addition, the Red Barons will relocate to Allentown. I will have to redo the overall assignment. Watch for the results.

Note to operations research instructors. This blog provides an example of an assignment problem and the use of the Hungarian algorithm to solve the problem. I used the Hungarian method to come up with the above pairing. The hardest part of setting this problem up is finding the 435 distances between major and AAA cities. I just simply used the latitude and longitude and used a trigonometric formula to find the crow-distances.


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