The Fresno Grizzlies will have a new East Coast vibe starting next season.
Following a game of musical chairs between several Major League Baseball and Triple-A clubs, the Grizzlies announced Tuesday they have agreed to a two-year Player Development Contract with the Washington Nationals.
“This is another thrilling new chapter for Fresno Grizzlies baseball – we can’t wait for the Nationals to get on the ground in Central California and see everything this community has to offer,” Derek Franks, Grizzlies president, said in a media release.
“I believe the Washington Nationals will find this a comfortable place to cultivate all of their young talent, and will see early on how committed the fans of ‘Growlifornia’ are to baseball in the Central Valley.”
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Separated by 2,800 miles and three time zones, Fresno and Washington D.C. would seem an unlikely pairing. However, that’s how things shook out in the 48 hours following Sunday’s announcement that the Grizzlies and Houston Astros were parting ways.
With the Astros expected to move their top minor-league club to Round Rock, Texas, it left three MLB teams looking for Triple-A partners as of Tuesday morning: the Nationals, Texas Rangers and Milwaukee Brewers. The picture became clearer when the San Antonio Missions (formerly in Colorado Springs) announced an agreement with the Brewers, followed by the Nashville Sounds linking up with the Rangers.
Which left Fresno and Washington as the only remaining singles on the dance floor.
The Nationals have the 18th best farm system in baseball according to the preseason assessment of ESPN’s Keith Law and were ranked No. 22 by Bleacher Report following the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.
Syracuse, the Nationals’ Triple-A club since 2009, finished 64-76 this season in the International League North Division. Washington’s Double-A affiliate, the Harrisburg Senators, went 72-65 in the Eastern League.
The Nationals were displaced from Syracuse after that team was purchased by the New York Mets.
“The Washington Nationals are excited to be partnering with the Fresno Grizzlies of the Pacific Coast League,” Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo said. “Fresno is committed to player development and we hope this partnership will continue to yield success for both clubs on the field and off.”
The future of Triple-A baseball in downtown Fresno was secured in June after the Grizzlies’ new ownership group, Fresno Sports and Events LLC, signed a long-term deal to remain at Chukchansi Park through 2032.
Fresno Sports and Events LLC operates independently of any MLB franchise. However, the affiliation swap means the Grizzlies will have new players and coaches starting next spring.
The Nationals become the Grizzlies’ third MLB affiliate following 17 seasons with the San Francisco Giants (1998-2014) and four with the Astros (2015-18).
Marek Warszawski: 559-441-6218, @MarekTheBee