Report from Modesto Bee suggests A’s could move AAA affiliate to Nashville

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 himOscar’s Beef, Booze & Broads.

20 thoughts on “Report from Modesto Bee suggests A’s could move AAA affiliate to Nashville

  1. I left comments on the original story itself, which I’ll let do the majority of the talking for me on this particular matter. From what I saw, SuSlu still backs the “the A’s are happy in Sacramento” idea:

    And I don’t know if a MLB team would have a different arrangement, but just checking on Orbitz for a couple weeks from now, I could find no direct flights from Nashville to Milwaukee. There were none from Nashville to Oakland or Fresno to Milwaukee either, from what I saw. It would definitely add a bit of time to anyone’s arrival when they’re called up. Players probably wouldn’t care because they’re in the bigs regardless, but having the top affiliate within a 2-hour drive would be a thing of the past for sure.

  2. There’s not a single quote from any of the three MLB or AAA teams. Not even a “unnamed source says” quote. I have no idea who his sources could possibly be within any of these organizations, but it leaves me wondering if he’d have a connection with anyone in within any of the MLB organizations that would be relevant. Until it’s corroborated by someone else, I’m thinking this is bs.

  3. By the way, with “direct flights” I mean non-stops. Even the stuff I saw from Nashville to Milwaukee had at least one stop.

    Melissa Lockard, who has covered A’s minor leaguers for years, trusts Brian VanderBeek but I’m still very skeptical of some of the specifics, especially the claim the A’s have been looking to get out of Sacramento for a while. That’s almost certainly false, especially in light of Slusser’s piece earlier this year that cited the A’s as talking to Sacramento about trying to extend their PDC.

    I’d lean toward believing Sacramento going Giants is going to happen, but that the A’s would go to Fresno unless there’s something else behind the scenes to change that. Maybe there really could be something to being in a completely new area with a brand new ballpark, but Fresno’s got a fairly nice one too. It’s possible the A’s may end up not caring a whole lot about the occasional bit of extra travel time for a call-up.

    • @James V – Even with a stop, the MKE-BNA flight is 3 hours or less. If the stop is a concern, drive 90 minutes to O’Hare and get a direct flight. In the end, same amount of travel time. Most of the PCL/IL cities are not home to airline hubs, so they should expect a stop here and there.

  4. Yeah, most are not major areas at all. But if Milwaukee moved their Triple-A facility to Fresno, their flight times obviously double or worse. I just don’t see why Milwaukee would bail on Nashville as a new stadium is about to open, unless Nashville caught wind that the A’s are going to need a new place and are seriously courting Oakland for their affiliation. That’s entirely possible.

  5. The way these minor league agreements are set up seems very antiquated. As much money flows through MLB, I’m surprised teams with desirable affiliations don’t buy them.

    In other words, it seems to me that the A’s and Giants should both be willing to make a Godfather offer to the Rivercats ownership group. It helps preserve their NorCal market share, facilitates call ups, etc.

  6. The A’s and Giants could if they wanted. But there’s no guarantee that the MiLB ownership group would bite. Some of these people own MiLB teams as a personal preference or status thing. Sac is the former.

    • @Dan/Jacob Jackson – MLB has rules against offering additional compensation to affiliates. MLB wants cost controls on what it considers primarily development. Since MiLB is subordinate to MLB, that’s not going to change.

  7. RM, are you trolling me? I work at the Plaza. Oscar’s is damned good. We were negotiating to build a hockey arena next to the rooftop pool. Didn’t pan out, as you might guess. Anyway, the 51s have been trying to get a new stadium almost as long as the A’s have, but they has a sweetheart lease at Cashman Field.

  8. ML – I meant that teams should be buying the affiliates.

  9. I seem to recall Fresno really wanting to affiliate with the LAAofA. How about a three-way swap of SFG->SAC, OAK->SLC, LAAofA->FRE

  10. As it was noted in the Modesto Bee’s piece, Salt Lake and the Angels re-upped.

  11. In the comments, I should clarify.

  12. I think the Angels re-upped with SLC already. So that’s not happening. And Fresno isn’t exactly a prime partner these days with their financial troubles. That said if they’re available I wouldn’t be surprised to see Fresno make a move to try and attract interest from either San Diego or LA, both of whom have expiring PDCs with the Chihuahuas and Isotopes respectively. Though LA has a decent relation ship with Albuqueque and and El Paso has a brand new stadium.

    As for the A’s, I wouldn’t be shocked if the A’s end up in one of the more out of the way or less desirable locations like Nashville or Las Vegas as they always seem to be the one left standing when the music stops. And a lot of MiLB team PDCs expire after this season.

  13. At the least, the thing Nashville does have going for it is opening a new ballpark next year. No more Greer Stadium. Plus, Nashville ain’t bad when it comes to music and food.

  14. Slusser on 95.7 said the A’s absolutely want to stay in Sac, but the Rivercats ownership is forcing the switch. Said A’s all but gone from Sac next year in favor of the team across the bay.

  15. Hate to say it, but it makes sense for Sac. The level of players may decrease slightly by going with the Giants, but the tie in to the far more popular MLB team in the Sacramento area will more than compensate for it. They’ll now be the AAA team of most of their customers favorite MLB team. Don’t be shocked to see several changes to the RiverCats too. I imagine their uniforms will feature orange instead of the current maroon for instance, and they’ll play up the link to the Giants far more than they ever have the A’s connection.

    The big question remains however, where do the A’s end up. Fresno would seem the logical choice, but they’re not a slam dunk.

  16. I guess I can’t fault the River Cats for trying to capitalize on how popular the Giants are now, but they’d better not expect to be making many changes to their division/PCL title banner for quite a long time if they go Giants.

    I know developing players and getting them ready for the bigs is the top priority, but the teams do like to win, and the fans have a better time when the teams win more.

  17. Do the aaa franchise players follow to the new city/franchise when the team moves, or does the new mlb parent team get those players?

    • Yes, the baseball side of the team (players, coaches, etc.) move to the new city. The business side (ticket sales, game ops) stays. Each PDC is set up so that the major league team controls the players and pays their salaries. By doing that it’s easy to make a PDC switch, even every 2 years.

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