With nearly 1,800 miles and a two-hour time-zone difference separating the Fresno Grizzlies and Houston Astros, it might not make much sense on the surface for the two baseball teams to remain affiliation partners.
Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow admitted as much during a news conference Saturday at Chukchansi Park.
But Luhnow also discussed why the Houston club never looked elsewhere prior to renewing the Player Development Contract that keeps the Grizzlies as the Astros’ Triple-A affiliate through the 2018 season.
The Astros have operated their Triple-A club out of Fresno since 2015.
Never miss a local story.
“If you’re looking on paper, it’s the location, the facility, what the batting cage is like, all the infrastructure for the players,” said Luhnow, citing factors when choosing where to place an affiliate. “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.
“We’ve been here the past two years and have really developed a strong relationship with the management team here. And that’s something that if you decide to pick up and go somewhere else, it’s really an unknown for the most part.”
Luhnow also cited Fresno’s proximity to three of their American League West Division foes – the Oakland A’s, Los Angeles Angels and Seattle Mariners (a two-hour flight out of Fresno Yosemite International Airport on one airline) – as convenience for transferring their players in Triple-A to the majors when called up.
And he raved about the Grizzlies front office’s support and efforts to meet the wants and needs of the Astros’ Triple-A players and coaches.
It doesn’t make a ton of sense when you first think about it: Why would the Astros have an affiliate in Fresno? But it does make sense.
Houston Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow
“It doesn’t make a ton of sense when you first think about it: Why would the Astros have an affiliate in Fresno?” Luhnow said. “But it does make sense.
“The more we got to know the team here, the facility, the area, we felt increasingly comfortable, so there’s no reason for us to think about going anywhere else at this point.”
The Grizzlies’ potential ownership change didn’t concern the Astros too much, either.
“That’s always a consideration,” Luhnow said. “But we feel pretty good that regardless of what happens, we feel we’re going to get the support that we need.”
The Grizzlies, too, could’ve elected to seek a different major-league parent after the season.
12 Number of Astros rookies who’ve played for the Fresno Grizzlies over the past two seasons
But with the Grizzlies enjoying instant success by winning a Triple-A and Pacific Coast League title during their first season as an Astros affiliate last year, the Fresno franchise also never looked elsewhere.
The Grizzlies endured 12 losing seasons during the franchise’s first 17 years while operating as the San Francisco Giants’ Triple-A affiliate from 1998-2014.
“From Day One, we really felt like family, part of the Astros family,” Grizzlies GM Derek Franks said.
In addition, there weren’t any appealing geographical fits for either the Grizzlies or Astros.
All five major-league teams in California (Giants, Dodgers, Padres, A’s, Angels) remain in a PDC that doesn’t expire until after the 2018 season.
The same is true for the two Triple-A teams located in Texas (Round Rock, El Paso).
Beginning in 2019, San Antonio will compete as a Triple-A club in the Pacific Coast League and its major-league affiliation has yet to be determined. That’s prompted speculation either the Astros or Texas Rangers will move their affiliate there.
Beginning in 2019, though, San Antonio will compete as a Triple-A club in the Pacific Coast League and its major-league affiliation has yet to be determined.
That’s prompted speculation either the Astros or Texas Rangers will move their affiliate there.
For at least the next two seasons, though, the Grizzlies know they’ll have a good chance to continue chasing after championships while fielding players from the Astros’ well-stocked farm system.
“We’ve got some exciting young pitching at Double-A that’s going to be making its way up here,” Luhnow said. “There’s still some good offensive players on their way up.
“This system is pretty balanced. It’s pretty deep, and I think we’re going to continue to see players here that really have a chance to impact the big leagues for years to come.”