The first domino of the 2018 affiliation shuffle fell yesterday—and it was a doozy. The Las Vegas 51s inked a two-year player-development contract with the Oakland A’s, the lone West Coast team available at the Triple-A level. 51s President Don Logan told the Las Vegas Review Journal that having an affiliate nearby was a deciding factor in the agreement, as was his friendship with A’s Executive Vice President Billy Beane.
“Geography matters,” Logan said. “How much it matters, I don’t know, but when you’ve got the list of teams available and there’s one West Coast team, which is Oakland, it just made sense and the fact that . . . Billy and I are friends.”
With Las Vegas off the board, the rest of the Triple-A alignment could very well take shape quickly. The Astros had already pulled out of Fresno, presumably to reunite Nolan Ryan with son Reid Ryan in Round Rock. If Logan is correct on his presumption about geography, then the Rangers will sign on with PCL newcomers San Antonio, which is taking the place of Colorado Springs in the league, despite any concerns about the Missions’ Double-A sized ballpark.
Such a scenario would leave the Nationals and Brewers to pick between Nashville and Fresno. Washington certainly would prefer to have their Triple-A club in Nashville, where several short direct flights to D.C. are available daily. Calling up a player from Fresno would be a bit more of an ordeal for the Nationals. Likewise, the Brewers would likely prefer to play in brand new First Tennessee Park over Fresno’s Chukchansi Park, a fine venue but one that has not seen many upgrades over the years as the team struggled financially—a situation that may change in the future under the Grizzlies’ new ownership.
So, with two suitors that each have well-run player-development systems, how does Nashville decide which one to sign?
Of course, there is no wooing allowed in the affiliation shuffle. The Professional Baseball Agreement, the rules that guide the relationship between the majors and minors, stipulates that neither major nor minor league club can sweeten an offer beyond the standard player development contract. Major League Rule 56(a) states that not only is money or any other financial perk prohibited from changing hands, teams are not even permitted to promise big league exhibition games in exchange for signing a PDC. Obviously, exhibition games in minor league parks at the end of spring training are a common occurrence, but those must not be connected to a PDC.
There are other ways to win over a minor league team. Big league teams eager to sign with an affiliate might promise to win the press conference announcing their arrival. The Braves did just that when they inked a two-year PDC with the Carolina Mudcats, beating out the Rangers for the last spot in the Carolina League and avoiding spending the next two years in now-defunct Bakersfield. The contingent making the trip to Cattails Restaurant at Five County Stadium to sign the pact with the Mudcats and meet the local press corps included such Braves dignitaries as team president John Schuerholz, interim general manager John Hart, Hall of Fame manager Bobby Cox, senior vice president Chip Moore and manager Fredi Gonzalez. Talk about making an entrance.
“I thought we might get one of those guys,” Carolina Mudcats then-owner Steve Bryant told me after the press conference. “For Bobby Cox and Fredi and everyone to show up, you’ve got to be impressed with that. It shows their commitment and where they want to be.”
The Braves opted not to renew their PDC two years later and instead purchased a Florida State League franchise and move it to Kissimmee, near their spring training complex. The Brewers now own the Mudcats franchise.
Stay tuned for the next episode of the affiliation shuffle.