Despite reports that the Mets were dropping their rookie level team in Kingsport, TN, it turns out that the Mets will not be fielding a Gulf Coast League team in 2012. The GCL is the lowest level of professional baseball in the US, and is usually the first landing spot for high school draftees, and international free agents.
The games are played at a pretty low level, but it is the first exposure to professional baseball. This is the most important facet of rookie ball – the at bats and innings young players get. In 2011, the GCL Mets collective had 1854 AB and threw 491 innings over 56 games. Brandon Nimmo, Michael Fulmer and Joe Tuschak and others from the 2011 draft class made his professional debuts. Erik Goeddel and Kai Gronauer, minor leaguers from full-season leagues, used the GCL as a return to competitive action.
How much money could the Mets be saving here? In player and coach salaries it’s probably about $250,000. Travel costs were low, almost all of the team’s road trips were commutes with no hotel stays. If I recall correctly, the Mets owned their own Florida bus (going rates on coach rentals are about $700-800 per day). What other costs are there? The team was paying for some of the dorms and food for their players. This was probably a major cost. Insurance, which is probably not insignificant. League dues, which are probably insignificantly small – under $10k annually. Uniforms – also probably insignificant since the GCL team wore hand-me-downs. David Waldstein in the New York times puts the annual cost of a GCL team at $750-800,000 annually. For those keeping score at home, that’s roughly 1/5-1/4 of a Jon Rauch annually.
The real big issue will be the revised cost of operating the team’s Port St. Lucie complex over what used to be the GCL season. However, the advanced-A team will still play at Digital Domain Park, so the complex will stay open. The Mets will presumably still use their PSL complex for rehab. So unless I’m missing something here, I just don’t see much cost-saving. I do see the loss of developmental time and opportunities for young players.
The GCL had 15 teams, while the Arizona League had 13 teams in 2011. Assuming no other teams drop their GCL or Arizona affiliates, the Mets will be one of just three Major League teams in 2012 who will not field a true rookie ball team.