Could the Fresno Grizzlies’ time as the Triple-A affiliate of rising American League power Houston be nearing an end?
The San Antonio Missions announced Wednesday that they will move from Double-A to Triple-A in 2019, which might trigger a domino effect of new major/minor league partnerships.
Potentially, the Pacific Coast League Grizzlies could be one of those affected.
The Grizzlies’ Player Development Contract with the Astros, though it can be renewed, expires after the 2018 season.
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A spokesman for the Fresno franchise declined comment Wednesday, saying it was speculation at this point.
They’ve also been a final launching pad for minor league prospects turned rising major league stars Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman.
From the franchise’s debut in 1998 to 2014, Fresno was the San Francisco Giants’ Triple-A affiliate.
The Giants enjoyed championship success, winning World Series titles in 2010, 2012 and 2014, but the Fresno team during that even-year run generally languished in the PCL standings.
There are nine other major league teams that have a Player Development Contract expiring with Pacific Coast League clubs after the 2018 season, just as the Houston Astros have with the Fresno Grizzlies.
So which major league club might the Grizzlies partner with if the Astros were to bolt?
Theoretically, it could be any of the other nine who have a PDC with a PCL team set to expire after the 2018 season:
▪ Arizona Diamondbacks (Reno Aces)
▪ Colorado Rockies (Albuquerque Isotopes)
▪ Kansas City Royals (Omaha Storm Chasers)
▪ Milwaukee Brewers (Colorado Springs Sky Sox)
▪ New York Mets (Las Vegas 51s)
▪ Oakland A’s (Nashville Sounds)
▪ San Diego Padres (El Paso Chihuahuas)
▪ Seattle Mariners (Tacoma Rainiers)
▪ Texas Rangers (Round Rock Express)
Notably missing on that list: the Giants, whose contract with the Sacramento River Cats doesn’t expire until after 2020, and the Los Angeles Dodgers, whose ownership group also owns the Oklahoma City Dodgers.
Keep in mind, most teams prefer to have their Triple-A club as close as possible to the major league city.
Houston General Manager Jeff Luhnow admitted as much during his visit to Fresno in 2016, while also discussing the factors contributing to the Astros extending their PDC with the Grizzlies for another two years and other factors that go into choosing an affiliate.
“If you’re looking on paper, it’s the location, the facility, what the batting cage is like, all the infrastructure for the players,” Luhnow said then. “But really, the part that’s hard to evaluate is the relationship part of it. The trust that you build with an affiliate over time.”
Round Rock’s principal owner is Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan, also an executive advisor with the Astros.
Connecting those dots – the relationships and proximity – suggests the Astros after 2018 could have designs on switching to Round Rock and the Rangers to the newly promoted team in San Antonio.
And with Colorado Springs no longer in the mix for a Triple-A affiliation by then (it’ll move to low-A), the Brewers could be left looking for a partner.
The Grizzlies could be, too.
Highway 99 rivalry
SACRAMENTO RIVER CATS AT FRESNO GRIZZLIES
- First pitch: 7:05 p.m. Thursday, Friday; 5:05 p.m. Saturday; TBD on Sunday at Chukchansi Park
- Records: Grizzlies 35-37, River Cats 28-42
- Affiliations: Grizzlies (Houston Astros), River Cats (San Francisco Giants)
- Of note: Astros starter Charlie Morton is scheduled to make a rehab start for the Grizzlies on Thursday. Morton, a 10-year major-leaguer, is 5-3 with a 4.06 ERA and 65 strikeouts in 57.2 innings with Houston this season.