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.
The Capital of #Growlifornia is partnering with our Nation's Capital. 🐻🇺🇸
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.
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.”
The moment we have all been waiting for—or at least us few hardcore fans of minor league team movement—has finally arrived. The start of the affiliation shuffle’s two-week open period, when minor league teams are allowed to negotiate player development contracts with unaffiliated major league teams, officially began on Sunday. The every-other-year period is essentially free agency for minor league teams and allows fans to dream about which prospects might be coming to town.
Minor league teams had until Sept. 11 to extend PDCs with their current affiliate or notify their league offices that they want to pursue a new affiliation. Teams that do not strike a deal with a new affiliate by Sept. 30 will be assigned one by their league; no teams will be left without a partner.
While there will not be as much movement this offseason as in past years—20 teams changed partners in 2014—there are several interesting storylines to be played out over the next two weeks that will reshape the minors for several fanbases. Let’s take a look:
MINOR LEAGUE TEAMS AVAILABLE: Fresno, Las Vegas, Nashville, Round Rock, San Antonio
MAJOR LEAGUE TEAMS AVAILABLE: Astros, A’s, Brewers, Nationals, Rangers
The International League is set. The only change to come in the 14-team circuit—the Mets replacing the Nationals in Syracuse—has been known since New York purchased the franchise last offseason. That decision gave Washington a full year to ponder where its Triple-A affiliate will play during the next two seasons. The Nats’ best options appear to be Nashville, which opened First Tennessee Park in 2015, or Las Vegas, which is scheduled to open a new ballpark in 2019 (hopefully for Opening Day).
Nashville may have the edge as the top choice because it would keep the Triple-A Nats in the East with their other affiliates and is just a short two-hour flight from D.C., but Las Vegas is not a bad alternative. Pacific Coast League President Branch Rickey has long touted Las Vegas as arguably the most important city in the league for travel purposes. McCarran International Airport connects directly to most every city in the league, which is certainly a luxury for whatever team makes a home in Vegas. With Cashman Field and its lone outdoor batting cage and metal bleachers now a thing of the past, Las Vegas may become a sought-after landing spot for teams.