That didn’t take long, now did it? Just 24 hours after the Las Vegas 51s kick-started the affiliation shuffle by signing a two-year player-development contract with the Oakland A’s, the Fresno Grizzlies brought the Triple-A portion to a close by inking a two-year deal with the last team standing: the Washington Nationals.
The short-lived shuffle featured plenty of twists and turns. Raise your hand if you thought the Rangers would end up in San Antonio after getting boot-scooted out of Round Rock. Me too. But no, the Missions opted to stick with the Brewers, who had been the affiliate of Colorado Springs, whose spot San Antonio is taking the Pacific Coast League.
I certainly thought that the Nationals would pull out every trick in the PDC book to sign with a team in the East, presumably Nashville. But the Rangers beat them to it, signing a four-year PDC with the Sounds. Now, after spending their entire history in the International League, the Nationals are packing for Fresno—a mere 2,800 miles from Nationals Park.
Going to Fresno is just the latest development in a disappointing season for the Nationals. What’s next, Bryce Harper signing with the Phillies? General Manager Mike Rizzo didn’t hide his frustration, telling The Washington Post’s Chelsea Janes that their top choice was indeed Nashville.
“I think it’s real. It’s something we’re going to have to work around. We’re going to have to make adjustments, for sure,” Rizzo told Janes of the potential travel headache between Freno and D.C. “It’s not going to be as convenient as [Double-A] Harrisburg is, as Syracuse was, so we’ll have to make do.”
So, how did we get here? It all started on Monday, the second day of the affiliation shuffle, when old buddies Billy Beane and Don Logan decided to partner the A’s and soon-to-be-renamed 51s in Las Vegas’ new ballpark.
“Geography matters,” Logan, the 51s longtime president, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “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.”
The one sure thing in the affiliation shuffle was Round Rock and the Astros getting reuniting Express owner Nolan Ryan with his son/Houston president Reid Ryan. That happened on Tuesday morning when the Express sent out the not-so subtle tweet signaling an upcoming announcement.
That left Fresno, Nashville and San Antonio to be divided among the Brewers, Nationals and Rangers. San Antonio threw everyone for a loop early Tuesday afternoon when they announced it would be Milwaukee, not the nearby Rangers, playing at Wolff Stadium the next two seasons. Minor league teams know the value in aligning with the hometown team, which is why the Rangers seemed destined to end up with the Missions. Sure, San Antonio and Arlington are four hours apart, but that’s quite a bit closer than Milwaukee.
“With our promotion to the Triple-A Pacific Coast League, they will be terrific partners as we begin a new era of Missions baseball in 2019,” Missions President Burl Yarbrough said in a press release. “The Brewers were in town last week to see our facility and discuss our renovation plans for the clubhouse and batting cages. After meeting with them and seeing their excitement for San Antonio, we feel the Brewers were the best fit for us.”
That left the Rangers and Nationals to vie for Nashville, with Texas getting the nod to play at First Tennessee Park—the newest stadium available in the shuffle. A press conference has been called for Thursday in Nashville to formally announce the deal. Expect a nice turnout from Rangers brass.
“We viewed Nashville as a top-of-the-line city and franchise, with maybe the best facility in the minor leagues,” Rangers general manager Jon Daniels told the Dallas Morning News, adding that he thinks their farm system helped put them over the top. “They expressed appreciation for how we go about things and our history of developing big-league players,” Daniels said. “I expect we’ll be putting some quality young talent through there in the next couple of years.”
Getting sent to Fresno is hardly a death sentence. In fact, the Grizzlies are a franchise on the rise with new ownership, a new lease on their ballpark and renovations in the works. They are one of the most creative teams in the industry, so coming to the ballpark will certainly be an interesting experience for the players. But having your Triple-A affiliate so far away, without a direct flight to D.C. available, could be a logistical headache the Nationals were hoping to avoid.
“We’ll be looking for better options that fit better geographically in the future,” Rizzo told The Post. “But as of now, we’re satisfied with Fresno. They wanted us there. We’re happy to be there. It’s going to be all good.”