Here we go again. After May’s report about the River Cats looking to switch affiliations from the A’s to the Giants, we’ve got a new round of rumors to deal with. This time they come from Modesto Bee sports writer Brian VanderBeek, who has heard an even more sordid, complicated switch.
VanderBeek checked with “four sources within the Giants and A’s organizations” for his report. If it’s to be believed, the Giants and River Cats will hook up. However, he notes a huge difference from the May rumors in that the A’s would be pushing to leave the River Cats, not the other way around as was originally reported. In May, Susan Slusser reported that the River Cats were initiating the move, which would stop the renewal of the PDC (Player Development Contract) with the A’s.
There’s little the A’s can do if the River Cats want to drop the A’s (or vice-versa). Every couple years there’s something of a free-for-all in terms of PDC renewal. Most teams renew, but if major or minor league clubs find competitive or financial reasons to change affiliations, they’re well within their rights to do so. However they must make changes within a very narrow, specific window in September, and no earlier because discussions before September could be considered tampering. By rule MLB teams aren’t allowed to sweeten deals to provide more cash or assistance to affiliates other than the normal underwriting of baseball operations.
Currently there are 9 Pacific Coast League franchises and 4 International League teams whose PDC’s end this year. Teams that have a long-standing relationship or geographical convenience (Tacoma-Seattle, Colorado Springs-Colorado, Pawtucket-Boston) are likely renewal candidates. Other cities like Las Vegas or El Paso aren’t so steady. VanderBeek floated a three-way swap, which would have Sacramento pair with the Giants, Fresno with the Brewers, and Nashville with the A’s.
I’m at a loss to understand why such a swap would be helpful to the A’s or Brewers. Nashville, like Milwaukee, is in the Central time zone and the two cities are less than 500 miles apart. Shuttling players equates to a simple commuter flight, though that’s not as good as the 90-minute drive from Sacramento to Oakland. Nashville to Oakland is nearly 2,000 miles with few direct flights between the two. If anything, Nashville seems like a prime opportunity for the Mets to get their AAA affiliate out of Las Vegas. The Sounds are playing their last season at Nashville’s barebones Greer Stadium, home of the most uniquely shaped scoreboard in baseball. A controversial new ballpark is scheduled to open in 2015.
Should September turn into a game of AAA musical chairs, Fresno and Las Vegas would probably be the most up-in-the-air locales. Fresno’s ownership situation has not been stable, and the Grizzlies have frequently claimed losses and begged for enhanced stadium subsidies. Las Vegas is stuck for now with old, desert hot Cashman Field, which the A’s know a little too well as a temporary home. If the A’s are unable to willingly pair up with a minor league city/franchise, MLB and MiLB will step in and make a short-term assignment. The A’s Midland (AA-Texas League) and Beloit (A-Midwest League) PDC’s are also up for renewal in September. Historically, affiliations at the lower levels have been more volatile than at the AAA level.
Changing the affiliate to Nashville would make the team a little more difficult to follow for A’s fans, plus it would reduce the undersold, underappreciated convenience of having the MLB team and two affiliates within 60-90 minutes of one another. Anything’s possible, though this move doesn’t seem likely. It’s hard to see the A’s getting frozen out since the River Cats’ outstanding records throughout their tenure in Sacramento are something of a feather in the A’s cap. Yet if the A’s were to end up paired with Vegas, boy oh boy would that start the franchise move talk all over again. Former mayor Oscar Goodman may be retired, but he’s still alive and his wife is now mayor. The outspoken retired politician just had a new Vegas restaurant inside a casino named after him: Oscar’s Beef, Booze & Broads.