December 10, 2007 at 6:15 PM
As speculated on SoxProspects.com since June, Baseball America has confirmed that the Fenway Sports Group, a John Henry enterprise, recently reached an agreement to purchase the Salem Avalanche of the Carolina League from Hardball Capital. The Avalanche, currently the High-A club for the Houston Astros, will remain an Astros affiliate in 2008, but is now primed to become the Red Sox affiliate following the 2008 season. At present, Boston's High-A affiliate is the Lancaster JetHawks, but the player development contract between Lancaster and Boston expires after next season. After the 2006 season, the Red Sox signed a player development contract with the JetHawks, who play their home games in Lancaster, California. This was after Boston's former High-A club, the Wilmington Blue Rocks, dropped their affiliation with Boston in favor of Kansas City, leaving the Red Sox with minimal remaining affiliate options at the High-A level, ultimately requiring them to sign with the California franchise. The JetHawks have proven to be a great affiliate and a top notch club, but the Red Sox prefer to keep all of their minor league clubs on the East Coast for ease of player promotion and scouting. Salem, Virginia is less than 300 miles from Boston's Low-A affiliate in Grenville, South Carolina, and a much shorter plane trip up to Portland, the Red Sox AA club. Furthermore, attendance in the Carolina League is generally much higher than that of the California League, where the JetHawks presently play. In 2007, Salem's attendance was 258,469 while Lancaster's was 125,353.
The Avalanche will be the only minor league affiliate owned by the Red Sox above the rookie-level. Presently, the Red Sox also own the Gulf Coast League Red Sox and the Dominican Summer League Red Sox, both rookie-level teams. The teams' other affiliates are all owned by outside parties and are affiliated with the team by way of "player development contracts." Player development contracts are generally renewed or re-aligned every two or four years with each team's non-owned minor league affiliates, always in even years. The major league organization always retain the rights to all players under contract with it, regardless of the assigned affiliate, the ownership of the minor league club, or the player development contract.
The pending affiliation with the Avalanche marks a return to Salem, Virginia for the Red Sox. From 1943 to 1952, the Avalanche, then known as the Roanoke Red Sox, were a Sox affiliate, and actually played and defeated the major league club in an exhibition game in the late forties.