The move had been expected for almost a month but couldn't be announced until this week, per league rules. The Blue Jays have essentially switched places with the Mets, who reached a deal with the Las Vegas 51s on Monday night.
The new contract with Buffalo is a two-year deal that starts at the beginning of next season and lasts through the 2014 campaign.
"We are thrilled to enter into partnership with the Buffalo Bisons organization and more specifically with Mindy and Bob Rich who we have known for many years," said Blue Jays president and CEO Paul Beeston in a statement. "This relationship is a natural fit, both geographically and philosophically. The Bisons are committed to winning and the Rich family to providing an environment consistent with the values we are establishing with the Blue Jays. Simply put, we are fortunate they have agreed to align with our program and we thank them for the confidence they have shown in us."
Toronto was linked to Buffalo back in 2008, but the Bisons chose to sign a deal with the Mets instead. That forced the Blue Jays into an agreement with Las Vegas, only to see the roles reversed four years later.
There are multiple reasons why the Blue Jays were reluctant to re-sign with Las Vegas after their four-year agreement expired at the end of the Minor League season. There's the altitude, the (at times) insufferable heat, the poor field conditions and the overwhelming wind, which can turn any pitcher's outing into a nightmare.
But the issue that general manager Alex Anthopoulos kept going back to Sunday morning was Buffalo's close proximity to Toronto.
Instead of having to travel five hours by air -- with limited flight options -- players promoted from Buffalo will be within a 90-minute drive of Rogers Centre. That makes life a lot easier for the director of team travel, and it could provide some sort of normalcy to players on the way up.
"The biggest challenge there is when you want to call somebody up and the distance you have to travel," said utility man Mike McCoy, who has been sent back and forth between Toronto and Las Vegas 10 times in the past three years. "If you have a day game the next day and you have to take the red-eye the night before, it makes everything a little tougher on the player. If you go back and forth a few times, it can wear on you after a while.
"You're obviously excited to be in the big leagues, and that's the most important thing, but if they were in Buffalo, it would be a lot more convenient -- especially if both teams are at home and you're driving like two hours, an hour and a half, instead of taking the red-eye."
Toronto has avoided promoting most of its top pitching prospects to Triple-A in recent years. The offense-heavy Pacific Coast League is notoriously hard on hurlers because the ball travels through the air more easily with the high altitude, while infields hardened by the sun turn every routine grounder into a bit of an adventure.
This year, Las Vegas posted a 4.59 staff ERA, while the club hit .298 with an .826 OPS in 143 games. The arcade-style numbers on offense aren't prevalent in the International League, which should give the Blue Jays a better environment in which to evaluate players on both sides of the field.
The move to Buffalo now allows Toronto to have its prospects move through the system in a more traditional fashion rather than sheltering top talent and promoting players directly from Double-A.
"You do want fly balls to stay in the yard if they're supposed to, ground balls to stay in the infield if they're supposed to," Anthopoulos said. "And you do want the competition to be as even as it can be."
The connection between Toronto and Buffalo makes for a natural fit. The NFL's Bills play one regular-season game at Rogers Centre every year, and Blue Jays fans in southern Ontario could provide the Bisons with a boost in attendance with cross-border promotions.