Fresno Grizzlies

Grizzlies, Astros part ways. What Major League team will make Fresno its Triple-A home?

Opening Day 2017 for Fresno Grizzlies marked franchise’s 20th anniversary

Opening Day of the 2017 season marked the start of the 20th anniversary for the Fresno Grizzlies franchise.
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Opening Day of the 2017 season marked the start of the 20th anniversary for the Fresno Grizzlies franchise.

UPDATE: It doesn’t look like the Grizzlies will have a California affiliation in 2019. The Oakland A’s announced Monday they’re taking their Triple-A affiliation to Las Vegas.

ORIGINAL STORY: The Fresno Grizzlies are looking for a new Major League Baseball affiliate.

And it’s possible the Grizzlies could become the Triple-A club of one of the Major League teams in California again.

As expected, the Grizzlies and Houston Astros cut ties following this season, which ended Saturday after Fresno lost in the Pacific Coast League championship with a 5-0 loss to the Memphis Redbirds.

It was a successful relationship on the field for the Grizzlies, getting to field players from a well-stocked Astros farm system.

Ultimately, the Grizzlies won a Triple-A National championship and PCL title in 2015.

tony d
Tony DeFrancesco guided the Fresno Grizzlies to three straight winning seasons, including a Triple-A National Championship in 2015. He’s elected not to return to the parent club Houston Astros organization for an eighth season. ERIC PAUL ZAMORA ezamora@fresnobee.com

But it also was somewhat an awkward fit for both franchises considering the geographic distance between Houston and Fresno, and the lack of Astros fans in the central San Joaquin Valley prior to them teaming up.

So after four seasons, the Astros decided not to renew their player development contract with the Grizzlies.

“Affiliation shifts are more the rule than the exception, it’s often inevitable,” Grizzlies President Derek Franks said. “As MLB organizations evaluate their minor league operations over the length of any PDC, often their needs for Triple-A change.

“We respect their decision and understood when we first signed with them it was likely the relationship would last only four seasons. We are indebted to the Astros for the great quality of teams we’ve had the last four years.”

KEMP
Despite a stacked roster featuring top Astros prospects such as Tony Kemp, Fresno Grizzlies attendance has fallen off compared to the Triple-A baseball team’s years as a Giants affiliate. JOHN WALKER FRESNO BEE FILE

Who could the Grizzlies partner with among the five MLB teams in California?

The San Francisco Giants again?

No. They’re still with the Sacramento River Cats for at least another two years, if not unofficially longer.

The Los Angeles Dodgers?

Nope. They just renewed their PDC in August.

The L.A. Angels or San Diego Padres?

Try one more time.

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The Grizzlies’ next affiliate could be the Oakland A’s.

But just as possible, the Grizzlies’ next affiliate could be another MLB team that’s not based in California.

Like the Milwaukee Brewers.

And the Grizzlies will be facing some stiff competition to attract the A’s to downtown Fresno.

Here’s the situation and how the dominos appear lined:

In addition to the Astros, the A’s, Brewers, Texas Rangers and Washington Nationals are all “free agents.”

So the Grizzlies theoretically have five MLB options.

But hold on.

The Astros are obviously out the door, heading back to Texas with Round Rock Express as the most likely partner.

That pushes the Rangers Triple-A team looking for a new home. Just based on geography and franchise footprint, the San Antonio Missions (being elevated from Double-A to Triple-A) would seem to be the ideal fit.

The Nationals become the next domino to fall, with talks that Washington’s Triple-A team might align with the Nashville Sounds.

“I did meet with the owners of the (Nationals), not about expansion, but the potential to align with the Sounds to be their Triple-A,” Nashville mayor David Briley told ESPN 102.5 The Game earlier this month, according to a Las Vegas Journal Review story. “We’ve heard several major league teams looking at Nashville with the A’s probably trying to get back towards the west coast.”

So that leaves the A’s and Brewers looking for a new partner.

And among the Triple-A teams still available: the Grizzlies and Las Vegas 51s.

From a geographic sense, both Fresno and Las Vegas would prefer to partner with the A’s than Brewers.

So that means the A’s get to call the shot.

correa
Houston Astros star Carlos Correa returned to Fresno on Thursday to begin a rehab assignment with the Triple-A Grizzlies. And it just so happened that Correa played on a night when the Grizzlies where running their Oreo-theme uniform promotion. Kiel Maddox Fresno Grizzlies

Partner with a Triple-A team in California, where there’s a natural footprint and fan base, and shuttling players from Oakland and Fresno takes just a three-hour drive?

Or go to Vegas and play in a new ballpark?

Las Vegas has been long known as a terrible place for baseball because of the hot weather and poor facility.

But 2018 was also the final season that the 51s had to make Cashman Field their home.

Next season, the 51s will play in a new ballpark in downtown Summerlin, which is about a 20-minute drive from the strip - and the big Las Vegas airport.

So if the Grizzlies miss out on signing a PDC with the A’s, Fresno would become home of the Triple-A Brewers.

Good thing the Grizzlies have marketed themselves as a Fresno club.

Michael Baker, managing general partner of the new Triple-A baseball club, announces fan-friendly changes to stadium experience and promotion of Derek Franks to team president.

Because regardless of an affiliation change, the Grizzlies still would have the same marketing and promotional team that’s generated much buzz and excitement both locally and nationally about the Fresno franchise.

And the Fresno Grizzlies also keep their alter ego as the Fresno Tacos.

Bryant-Jon Anteola: 559-441-6362, @Banteola_TheBee

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