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Introducing: the expansion Charlotte Divide

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Give us your underutlized, your overexposed, your huddled masses of misunderstood ballplayers.

Layne Murdoch

Recently, Bryan Grosnick and the rest of a deep Beyond the Box Score staff undertook an expansion draft project. Set in an alternate universe with a timeline that diverged on July 28th, teams were set up in Portland and Charlotte, and site staff maintained protected lists for the (other!) 30 MLB teams. This is the story of the Charlotte Divide, a fictional expansion team in the National League.

Many applied for available leadership positions with the two teams' front offices, and as a random number generator and a mad scramble for talent would have it, Ryan P. Morrison, Stephen Loftus, Bryan Robinson, Justin Perline, Neil Weinberg, Stuart Wallace, Jeffrey Bellone and Chris St. John all signed on to take a role with the team.

Our assignment was simple: build a major-league organization in Charlotte through an expansion draft simulation, with the understanding that some minor leaguers would already be in the fold through Charlotte's picks in the two prior Rule 4 drafts. Neil Weinberg, master of all things saber and Charlotte-area resident, suggested we be named after the defining feature of North Carolina topography: the watershed divide formed by the Appalachian Mountains. We quickly recruited a franchise owner: Jim Goodnight, a North Carolina community leader and CEO of SAS, a multi-billion dollar company that grew out of Goodnight's general-purpose statistical analysis system.

Organization Philosophy

As a group, we quickly opted to put our emphasis on contending in 2017 and beyond, instead of favoring the 2015 squad. This, we believed, was best for the long-term health of the franchise — although the move came with some risk, in that it could be harder to generate a season-ticket-holder base and to stick in the consciousness of the Charlotte area. And as fans around the country could tell us, building for the future does not always work according to plan.

The emphasis on 2017 allowed us to do two attractive things in the near term: 1) emphasize prospects in the impending expansion draft, and 2) try out some alternative roster-building techniques in 2015 and 2016. In addition, should the Divide have more success in 2015 than anticipated, our front office could find itself sitting on a significant pile of money that would allow us to hit next year's free agent market, and hit it hard. And while having a boatload of prospects who were notable but too fringy to protect wouldn't necessarily push our team to the baseball stratosphere, that's a great recipe for putting together trades. Whether it was to fill a 2015 hole or to help make a push to contend after the 2015 season, we thought that by giving ourselves license to take prospects early, we'd be picking up assets more marketable than the major league talent we expected to be available.

We reasoned that the reality of the expansion draft was that players who were available were likely to be overpriced, to be hurt, or to have low floors, even if they had good ceilings. The expertise of injury analyst Stuart Wallace would figure prominently in sorting out the injury cases, and JAVIER creator Chris St. John was tasked with scouring the deep minors for available prospect talent. The rest of us? We put the 30 MLB organizations under a microscope in search of the best talent left off protected lists.

The unusual nature of the expansion draft meant that we didn't need to compare our top several players from each MLB organization against each other. Instead, preparation for Round 1 of the expansion draft entailed research and consensus on the best player available from each MLB team; only after completing that did we rank those thirty players in order. And while we left some room to call audibles based on how the round unfolded — need was sometimes considered in addition to value — we more or less followed our draft board in Round 1, as well as in Round 2 and the abbreviated Round 3.

Our Special Sauce: Starter-by-Committee

With the backing of the analytics-oriented Goodnight, we felt free to experiment in building the 2015 roster. No experiment was bigger than starter-by-committee (which we came to refer to affectionately as "SBC"), at least with respect to our approach to the expansion draft.

There are several potential benefits to the SBC approach to building a pitching staff. In the utmost brevity, good things about SBC: 1) We avoid the vast majority of the Times Through the Order Penalty ("TTOP") instances for all of our pitchers; 2) ordinarily, when pitchers tend to pitch until they fail, they're more likely to fail more frequently than when if their innings were pre-set; 3) former starters could find a little extra velocity; 4) we get more innings out of our good relievers; 5) we avoid having relievers pitch in back-to-back days, or when they might be particularly fatigued; 6) there are pitchers who might be "in-betweeners" who are valuable in longish stints, but whose stuff doesn't play up in short relief or stand up in starts, and who might be undervalued in the marketplace; 7) pitchers can be more easily fixed in side sessions, considering that relievers almost never get that opportunity even if something's not quite right mechanically; 8) by having what could be an eleven-man pitching staff, it's likely to be our worst one or two pitchers dropped from usage; 9) by having what could be an eleven-man pitching staff, we could get the benefit of an extra bench player; 10) we can pinch hit earlier in games, in high leverage spots; and 11) an SBC staff would most likely be cheaper, both in free agency and in the arbitration process.

It's not all rosy, of course. There are distinct drawbacks to an SBC system. Principal among them: 1) It's harder to play matchups in the late innings, somewhat negating benefit #10 above; 2) pitchers aren't trained to pitch every third game, and would need to learn to do so; 3) it would be harder to recruit free agent pitchers; and 4) the team would get fewer innings from its very best pitchers.

But here's the thing: in this expansion team context, SBC is a particularly good fit. That third drawback? Well, we don't need to attract free agent pitchers, as they don't get a choice in the expansion draft. The fourth? Also not a problem. We didn't expect to get any standout pitchers in the expansion draft, as no team has so many of them that they would be likely to fall through the cracks of protected lists.

So the Charlotte Divide embraced SBC. We are, after all, building for 2017. If it turns out to work reasonably well in 2015, we'll do it in 2016; if it works well in 2016, or if it works famously in either year, we will probably extend SBC's lease of the pitching staff. There are too many Wade Davises and Josh Collmenters and Brandon Morrows out there for SBC to fail on a continuing basis, even if the expansion draft gives it an extra special shot in the arm. What the SBC philosophy meant for the draft process was that we would target relievers and other pitchers with good "stuff" who just didn't hack it as starters; also, we didn't need to prioritize starting pitchers for the sake of having them.

Preparing for the Expansion Draft: Round 1

At any one time, there are up to 1,200 baseball players on MLB Reserve Lists. Many more than that have been drafted by MLB teams within the last three years (and were, for our simulation, automatically protected). What's worse, the only way to tell the eligible from the ineligible, in some cases, was some really deep research. That's where our swarm approach worked well.

With a consensus philosophy, we split up MLB's six divisions among us in search of the best eligible players from each organization (it didn't hurt that we each GM'd one or more of the MLB teams in the protected-list process). Each MLB division was also assigned a cross-checker, meaning that each MLB organization was put under the microscope by at least two members of the Charlotte front office.

Knowing that we could need picks for three rounds, we needed to identify at least nine pick-worthy players from each organization. A deep-minors look from Chris St. John and Bryan Robinson added some candidates from most organizations, and injury analytics expert Stuart Wallace examined players flagged through the cross-checking process as potential injury-derived opportunities. With lists of players for each MLB organization, several members of the front office built preference lists for the first round. Once we formed a consensus on our top pick for each organization, we formed a draft board about 30 picks deep. It had some moving parts — in particular, catcher, middle infield and first base — but for the most part, we were able to stick with our draft board for the first round.

Our draft board, as we had it before the first round started:

Order Player Position Organization
1-2 Christian Vazquez C Red Sox
1-2 Jimmy Nelson P Brewers
3 Elvis Andrus SS Rangers
4 Luis Severino P Yankees
5 Lucas Duda 1B Mets
6 Tyler Matzek P Rockies
7 Craig Gentry OF Athletics
8 Michael Taylor OF Nationals
9 Taylor Guerrieri P Rays
10 Cameron Maybin OF Padres
11 Randal Grichuk OF Cardinals
12 Josh Harrison OF/INF Pirates
13 Joe Panik 2B Giants
14 Alexei Ramirez SS/2B White Sox
15 Randall Delgado P D-backs
16 David Murphy OF Indians
17 Danny Hultzen P Mariners
18 Miguel Almonte P Royals
19 Juan Francisco 3B Blue Jays
20 Teoscar Hernandez OF Astros
21 Matt Shoemaker P Angels
22 Aaron Hicks OF Twins
23 Neil Ramirez* P Cubs
24 Jordan Walden P Braves
25 Bruce Rondon P Tigers
26 Yorman Rodriguez OF Reds
27 Jacob Turner P Marlins
28 Ben Revere OF Phillies
29-30 Some Reliever P Dodgers or Orioles

Things changed mid-round (see the main expansion draft post for some pick-by-pick analysis), and we went into the process with our eyes open that there was no way we could get our top 15. That was the nature of the draft process, in that an organization could only be picked from once per round; even though there was not much overlap between our top 30 and Portland's, there was almost complete overlap in terms of how both front offices viewed the organizations from which we were picking.

After we selected Elvis Andrus, we called an audible to pick the underrated Craig Gentry next; that new plan was busted when Portland busted the Athletics by picking Stephen Vogt. With Gentry and Lucas Duda off the board early, we went on our little prospects run early, bumping up Cameron Maybin in a gamble that Portland might want him and would probably let Taylor fall an extra pick (only just!). When Joe Panik was taken off the table by Portland's Gregor Blanco pick, we stayed the course with Alexei Ramirez, thinking that we could get both him and Taylor Guerrieri, with Portland likely thinking that they could wait to get a shortstop with us already set at that position. Portland also busted the Diamondbacks before we could grab Randall Delgado, who we thought held promise in our SBC system. We'll never know whether we would have taken Danny Hultzen from the Mariners or gone with Bryan Robinson's looks-excellent-in-hindsight Dustin Ackley choice, what with Portland busting Seattle with the #4 overall pick. And even though on paper we knew it would happen, we were still surprised by the poor quality of players available with our last two picks.

Preparing for Round 2

When the dust settled after Round 1, we found we had money to spend: just $39M in 2015 salary for Andrus, Ramirez, Maybin and Murphy, with maybe $10M more due to Wood and Francisco in arbitration. That left us with about $45M before we'd hit our $95 payroll threshold. We could afford to take some small chances for 2015 while planning to attack the free agent market after the 2016 season.

Another thing we were short on: major league pitching. We were covered every position on the field, with the exception of a first baseman and a platoon partner for Juan Francisco. But our prospect-heavy approach to Round 1 did come at a cost, and that cost was having a pitching staff of just Jimmy Nelson, Tyler Matzek, Travis Wood and... Brad Brach. A 12-man staff, that was not. And so in addition to focusing on prospects again and making sure we covered first base, we resolved to focus on pitching in the second round.

Here it was that we thought the SBC secret would be revealed; after the BtBS GMs updated their protected lists with three additional players, we cobbled together a best-of-SBC list. There was a "handle with care" category of possible fits, which was headed by the returning Daniel Hudson but which included Jeremy Hellickson and a dicey Danny Hultzen; and underutilized relievers division, which included Drew Pomeranz, Chris Hatcher and Jonathan Papelbon; and an exposed-as-starters division, topped out with pitchers like Tsuyoshi Wada, Adam Warren, Stolmy Pimentel and Adam Ottavino.

One player who put us in an interesting situation was Danny Hultzen, who we originally had on our Round 1 draft board. However, going into Round 2 it was clear from internal discussions that we were becoming more concerned about his injury history. With this in mind, we turned the matter over to our injury expert Stuart Wallace. In response to our question, Stu gave us the following answer.

Not only is he coming back from major shoulder surgery, it's one that saw his labrum cleaned up, a partial rotator cuff tear repaired, AND an anterior capsule repaired. One of those things can end a player's career and capsule tears are (Chris Young aside) the kiss of death to a guy's career. Add to this hip problems and wonky mechanics (that, with the arm issues, make me feel he projects more as a reliever nowadays) and I feel that if you have other guys you like, I'd go for them.

All that said, Stu still believed that Hultzen had a small chance of returning as a reliever. With all this in mind, we removed Hultzen from Round 2 considerations and placed him on our Round 3 radar. However, Portland decided to give Hultzen a shot on taking him in the middle of Round 2.

We followed an abbreviated version of our Round 1 protocol, as the basic research had already been done. We had some bigger differences of opinion in this round, as "need" seemed to cast a wider shadow over the process. There were also many, many more moving parts, and since we had only an abbreviated 5-pick round after this (and since we were counting on some good prospects being available then), we weren't able to fashion a simple draft board again. With a custom FanGraphs leaderboard of potentially SBC-worthy pitchers open on one screen, we had this draft board open on the other:

Team Player Position TierRank Tier OR Tier
Red Sox Daniel Nava OF 1 Tier 1 --
Athletics Drew Pomeranz P 2 Tier 1 --
Nationals Blake Treinen P 3 Tier 1 --
Pirates Ike Davis 1B 4 Tier 1 --
Padres Tommy Medica OR Jace Peterson 1B OR SS 5 Tier 1 Tier 3
Rangers Robinson Chirinos C 1 Tier 2 --
Rays Logan Forsythe OR Jeremy Hellickson 2B/3B OR P 2 Tier 2 Tier 4
Braves David Carpenter P 3 Tier 2 --
Rockies Adam Ottavino OR D.J. LeMahieu P OR 2B 4 Tier 2 Tier 4
White Sox Carlos Sanchez SS 1 Tier 3 --
Indians Ronny Rodriguez SS/2B 2 Tier 3 --
Marlins J.T. Realmuto C 3 Tier 3 --
Cardinals Tyrell Jenkins P 5 Tier 3 --
Yankees Adam Warren P 6 Tier 3 --
Angels Cam Bedrosian P 1 Tier 4 --
Giants Keury Mella P 2 Tier 4 --
Astros Teoscar Hernandez OR Vincent Velazquez OF OR P 3 Tier 4 no change
Phillies Aaron Altherr OF 4 Tier 4 --
Twins Travis Harrison OF 5 Tier 4 --
Blue Jays Danny Valencia* 2B/3B 1 Tier 5 --
Diamondbacks Daniel Hudson OR Aaron Hill P OR 2B 2 Tier 5 Tier 6
Brewers David Goforth P 3 Tier 5 --
Mets Vic Black P 4 Tier 5 --
Cubs Tsuyoshi Wada P 5 Tier 5 --
Dodgers J.P. Howell OR A.J. Ellis P OR C 6 Tier 5 Tier 2
Royals Omar Infante OR Mike Moustakas 2B OR 3B 1 Tier 6 depends
Tigers Tyler Collins OF 2 Tier 6 --
Orioles Tommy Hunter P 3 Tier 6 --
Reds no pick OR Brayan Pena C 4 Tier 6 --

Despite building in so many moving parts, we were thrown for a loop early when Portland used its first two picks to bust our 1B priority (Ike Davis) and our backup option (Tommy Medica). But we had had some internal debate between Blake Treinen and Steven Souza anyway, leading us to tap Souza with the fifth pick in the second round. Robinson Chirinos solidified us at catcher, obviating the need to consider A.J. Ellis. The Rays pick was as high as it was because we anticipated that Portland might be hot for Jeremy Hellickson, but Logan Forsythe fits the rest of our roster like a glove as a platoon partner for Juan Francisco and backup at second base. Our need to get a 2B/3B type predicated many of the moving parts on the board.

We erred in thinking that Danny Valencia was a member of the Blue Jays, per our rules; in fact, he was a member of the Royals, and he got popped by Portland with the 10th pick of the second round. The Royals pick was a subject of some debate in our front office, with Stephen Loftus making a strong case for the established Omar Infante and Bryan Robinson making an impassioned plea for Mike Moustakas. Whether we would have taken either of them we'll never know (one unnamed FO member surmised that Moustakas couldn't be worse if we made him hit right-handed to platoon with Juan Francisco), as it was not Robinson, but Ryan Morrison who got a wish fulfilled; re-opening the Blue Jays meant that John Stilson could join the Divide as an in-betweener pitching prospect who might fit SBC well.

After Round 2 was complete, the Divide lacked depth but had no glaring holes. In Drew Pomeranz, David Carpenter, Adam Ottavino, Cam Bedrosian, J.P. Howell and the thrilling Daniel Hudson, we added enough pitchers to staple together a 2015 pitching staff—all while grabbing a few extra prospects and solidifying our major league mix at catcher, the skill positions in the infield, and the outfield.

Preparing for Round 3

When the D-backs and Devil Rays got their expansion draft, they took 7 picks in the third round; the fact that we were also picking from them in the first two rounds meant that each expansion team had just 5 picks in Round 3. I think every member of both front offices would agree, however, that despite teams' opportunities to protect an additional three players, the options available in Round 3 were far superior to the options available in the back third of Round 2.

Having successfully gambled at the outset of Round 2 that Manuel Margot would be available in Round 3, there wasn't much for our front office to think about in Round 3 prep. Keury Mella was also popular when we were preparing our individual Round 3 lists, and Jose LeClerc emerged as a strong future SBC option. Like Mella, Teoscar Hernandez and David Goforth were leftover from previous rounds. Our consensus draft board was a list of prospect types:

Order Player Position Organization
1 Manuel Margot OF Red Sox
2 Keury Mella P Giants
3 Jose LeClerc P Rangers
4 Teoscar Hernandez OF Astros
5 David Goforth P Brewers
6 Domingo German P Marlins
7 Ji-Man Choi 1B Mariners
8 Brad Boxberger P Rays

That was just one piece of the puzzle, however. We resolved to take Ike Davis with the #7 pick if that were possible, and to shock the world by taking Jonathan Papelbon with the final pick. Papelbon? Yes, Papelbon. While ensuring that he couldn't vest his 2016 option, we planned to try him out in SBC. If it worked, we might have a fantastic pitcher who we'd be interested in extending; if it didn't, at least we'd only be on the hook for the one year. As it turned out, however, despite us getting our top three prospects in this round, the Phillies were busted with the #4 pick in this round, and after snagging Davis, we returned to our draft board to add Teoscar Hernandez to one of the most crowded minor league outfields in baseball.

We Present: the Charlotte Divide

Position players

Here's how our major league depth chart sorts out:

Depth Chart -
  • Catcher
  • Christian Vazquez
  • Robinson Chirinos
  • First Base
  • Ike Davis
  • Steven Souza
  • Robinson Chirinos
  • Second Base
  • Alexei Ramirez
  • Logan Forsythe
  • Third Base
  • Juan Francisco
  • Logan Forsythe
  • Shortstop
  • Elvis Andrus
  • Alexei Ramirez
  • Left Field
  • David Murphy
  • Daniel Nava
  • Steven Souza
  • Center Field
  • Cameron Maybin
  • Aaron Hicks
  • Right Field
  • Aaron Hicks
  • Daniel Nava

As it stands, the Divide have twelve position players lined up for the 2015 season, with room to add at least one and possibly two bench players. Our crunched outfield will feature an everyday Cameron Maybin. In an effort to find out who the switch-hitting Aaron Hicks is, he will most likely play every day (at least until Michael Taylor proves to be a better option). Against right-handed starters, David Murphy will start in left field, with Steven Souza getting a hefty number of starts there. Beyond that, the switch-hitting Daniel Nava will be a good platoon foil for Hicks in right; Nava has been much better against righties, while Hicks has been much better against southpaws. Nava (and by extension, Souza or Murphy) will also be the functional backup at center field, with Hicks moving over whenever Maybin is out (like that ever happens... oh wait) or gets a scheduled rest day.

We may use Ike Davis strictly as a platoon player, or as something more. Either is a possibility; although Souza cannot start for both Davis and Murphy against a left-handed pitcher, we expect Robinson Chirinos to get approximately 30 starts at first base while backing up Christian Vazquez behind the plate.

We are also enthusiastic about the rest of our infield mix. Juan Francisco may start a bit more than a normal platoon player, but he will still start only 70% of the time at third base; the right-handed Logan Forsythe has had little success against right-handed pitchers in his career (67 wRC+) but will likely start almost twice a week at third against a lefty (119 career wRC+). Forsythe will also play at second base on Alexei Ramirez rest days and on Elvis Andrus rest days (with Ramirez sliding over), perhaps ending up in the 300 plate appearances range even without injuries to the infield.

With no standout offensive players, we will be counting on these time shares to work some offensive magic. Defensively, we anticipate being above average at every spot on the diamond except for third base and possibly left field. Add to that an excellent pitch framer (Baseball Prospectus has Vazquez at 10.3 Framing Runs in just 41 games so far this season), and even if the position player crew is somewhat below average in 2015, they should help to make our unusual pitching staff look good.

Pitching staff

In broad strokes, we plan to align our SBC pitching staff as a rolling, 10- or 11-man schedule of pitchers each expected to throw three innings or so in every appearance. Every night, a fourth pitcher will be on notice that he may be called on, as well. Should a fourth pitcher not be needed frequently, every pitcher will get an extra day of rest every once in a while; they will also get the benefit of scheduled days off. The system is flexible enough to allow for a single true reliever, either to handle closing duties or to be a "relief ace" for the 6th, 7th, or 9th innings of games. In search of a mid-game "After Dickey" effect, we expect to stack pitchers in such a way as to highlight their differences, be it different arm angles, opposite arms, different repertoires, or fastballs with different velocities.

If some of our pitchers do not take to SBC and must be used in a truer relief role, there is an alternative possibility. Similar to a tennis player, you can think of baseball as three 3-inning sets. Win 2 of 3 and you'll probably have a good shot of winning the game. Orel Hershiser thought similarly, or so he said in George Will's "Men At Work." With that in mind, on any given day, there are 7 roughly defined roles. The first, Nominal Starter, is self explanatory. Get out there, throw 3-4 innings, get out. Then innings 4-6 are called the "Second Set."There are two guys that we have the option of running out for the second set: roles defined as "Second Set" (The primary guy) and "Second Set Option 2". The "Option 2" guy is generally the "Second Set" guy from two days prior. Then we have the "One Inning Reliever" (Think as a setup/bridge/matchup sort of guy). Then of course the "Relief Ace." Finally, there are two emergency pitchers. "Emergency Pitcher 1" is the next day's "Second Set" guy, and "Emergency Pitcher 2" is the "Nominal Starter" from two days previous. In general, all the "Second Set" guys can be "Nominal Starters" given enough rest. In those instances, we basically move everyone up a line, so the "Option 2" guys become the "Second Set," "Emergency Pitcher 1" becomes "Option 2."

With this in mind, the alternative SBC setup for the Charlotte Divide is as follows, along with taking certain constraints into consideration (The need for at least 2 lefties on each day, using David Carpenter as Relief Ace, separating guys such as Cam Bedrosian and Daniel Hudson who have similar arsenals and arm slots, and signing a free agent LHP who fits a desired profile).

Role Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day 4
Nominal Starter Jimmy Nelson Tyler Matzek Drew Pomeranz Daniel Hudson
Second Set FA Lefty Cam Bedrosian Adam Ottavino Travis Wood
Second Set Option 2 Adam Ottavino Travis Wood FA Lefty John Stilson
Emergency Pitcher 1 Cam Bedrosian Adam Ottavino Travis Wood FA Lefty
Emergency Pitcher 2 Drew Pomeranz Daniel Hudson Jimmy Nelson Cam Bedrosian
Relief Ace David Carpenter David Carpenter David Carpenter David Carpenter
One Inning Reliever J.P. Howell John Stilson Brad Brach J.P. Howell

Minor league prospects

Whether you include Michael Taylor in the 2015 mix is probably an open question, but either way, the Charlotte Divide farm system is strong enough to rank well among other organizations (10-15 range?). Remember, had this simulation been a reality, the Divide would already have had two draft classes (31st or 32nd pick) in the minors before the expansion draft started. We don't know who those players would have been, but we do know that the system still looks pretty good without them.

In John Sickels's midseason top 75 prospects, the Divide had three make the list (Nelson at 36, Severino at 38, and Taylor at 42) with four more receiving consideration. Assuming Christian Vazquez, Jimmy Nelson, and Cam Bedrosian are no longer considered rookies, there are still at least five players in the minors with a shot at being considered top 100 prospects this winter.

1 Michael Taylor OF
2 Luis Severino P
3 Taylor Guerrieri P
4 Manuel Margot OF
5 Miguel Almonte P
6 Vincent Velazquez P
7 Teoscar Hernandez OF
8 Keury Mella P
9 J.T. Realmuto C
10 Jose LeClerc P

Again, this Top 10 list doesn't include players we would have taken in the last two drafts, and it doesn't include Steven Souza, Travis Harrison, Aaron Altherr or John Stilson, all of whom are players we believe have at least a chance of being real contributors at the major league level. More importantly, all 14 of our prospects carry some value as assets; even if we don't know who they are (and will never have the opportunity to play them all in the majors), we know what they are right now: players that could be packaged together in trades (we don't have to wait a year, as with Rule 4 draftees), for major league players better than the ones left unprotected in the expansion draft.

Setting up minor league affiliates and stocking them with 2013-2014 draftees and minor league free agents would require an enormous amount of work. Still, we plan to work as hard as possible to be a regional team, much the way that the Atlanta Braves have been, for that reason, although we'd love to have affiliates a short drive away, we plan to try to lock down a somewhat larger geographic area with minor league affiliates in the Boston Red Sox model.

As for our Triple-A franchise, the Durham Bulls are locked up too far into the future with Tampa Bay (2018) to rely on getting the pair to break up. Fortunately for us, the Pacific Coast League is already heavier in teams than the International League, and so despite what I imagine would be Portland's clear preference to stay local, the new Triple-A teams will probably be in the International League.

Richmond is currently home to the San Francisco Giants' Double-A Southern League affiliate. In real life, Richmond signed a two-year extension with the Giants on Wednesday (yes, September 10), and in our alternate universe, we would have worked hard to work out a PDC with Richmond. Failing that, we would shoot to displace (or promote!) the Charleston River Dogs, a Yankees Single-A affiliate in the South Atlantic League.

It's harder to determine what lower-level leagues will have teams added, but we plan to push for a new Double-A Southern League team in Knoxville to further blanket our extended neighborhood. We may be less ambitious in seeking out a High-A franchise. By springing to life in Charlotte, we are already displacing the International League Knights, affiliated with the White Sox; since we will doubtless be talking to them anyway, we plan to try to convince them to sell us the High-A Winston-Salem Dash.

GM's Note: Every step of the way, building the Charlotte Divide was a collaborative effort by an amazing group of talented baseball men. I want to specifically single out Stephen Loftus — from this effort it seems clear to me that he could run an expansion franchise all on his own, and that any front office in baseball would be floored by his comprehensive approach to problem solving. Bryan Robinson, as well, brought enthusiasm and entrepreneurship to this process that made our efforts better at every turn. Justin Perline brought not only a different perspective, but the communication chops to cause the rest of us to re-examine positions we hadn't thought to question. Jeffrey Bellone was a valuable coalition builder whose way of looking things helped to start us on a successful path. Neil Weinberg could easily run an MLB team today, and without him taking on the role of a senior advisor and keeping us grounded, we would have ended up with a far inferior team. Chris St. John's expertise in prospects made him invaluable, and I say that as someone who thinks that word is overused. Finally, I am amazed how no major league team has tried to snap up Stuart Wallace, our injury analytics expert — I have always valued his expertise, but I had no idea just how useful he and his work could be in this context. And thanks for reading!

. . .

Ryan P. Morrison is a writer and editor at Beyond The Box Score, and co-author of Inside the 'Zona, a site offering analysis of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Follow him on Twitter: @InsidetheZona.

Stephen Loftus is an editor at Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @stephen_loftus.

Bryan Robinson is a Beyond the Box Score alumnus, and current intern for the Australian Baseball League's Canberry Cavalry. You can follow him on Twitter at @Bryan_R58.

Justin Perline is a writer for Beyond the Box Score and The Wild Pitch. You can follow him on Twitter at @jperline.