AAA Shuffle Begins with Guber’s Purchase of OKC RedHawks

Though we’re at least two weeks from MLB and AAA franchises from coming to new player development contracts (PDC), at least one team has gotten proactive to secure its future allegations early. A group led by Dodgers (and Warriors) co-owner Peter Guber is purchasing the Oklahoma City RedHawks, currently the AAA affiliate of the Houston Astros. The franchise will fetch $22-28 million according to The Oklahoman. Currently, Mandalay Entertainment owns the team. That company is also headed by Guber, making the purchase largely a paperwork matter. Mandalay also recently sold the Dayton Dragons (A-Midwest League) for a whopping $40 million, reflective of the team’s incredible attendance record and financial success.

The purchase of the RedHawks means that the Dodgers will soon switch their AAA affiliation from Albuquerque to Oklahoma City, making ABQ another free agent in this fall’s affiliate shuffle. Historically the Dodgers have never cared too much about having their AAA affiliate within driving range, as Albuquerque has hosted their AAA team twice, as the Dukes and now the Isotopes for nearly 50 years combined. It appears that the Dodgers have been more concerned about developing pitchers at more than a mile above sea level, resorting to using a humidor last year.

Rumors remain strong that the Sacramento River Cats will drop the A’s and hook up with the Giants, leaving Fresno as another free agent. Las Vegas may be re-upping with the Mets despite the distance from New York. Nashville, which will open a new stadium next year, remains up in the air in terms of its continuing relationship with the Brewers. Colorado Springs may also be available depending on how talks with the Rockies go. The El Paso-Padres and Tacoma-Mariners deals also expire in a week, though those seem more secure than others; El Paso because of a brand new ballpark, Tacoma because it’s so close to Seattle.

Making affiliate deals is as much about the bottom line as any other factor. Fresno has looked increasingly unattractive in recent years because of unstable ownership and the Grizzlies’ habit of running in the red. Fresno’s biggest may be something it can’t control: the cost of airfare in and out of its smallish airport. Air travel costs may also explain why the Mets have few qualms about extending with the 51s, since NYC-Vegas flights are relatively cheap and plentiful.

Here’s a list of potential upcoming AAA affiliation changes:

  • Oklahoma City RedHawks (from Astros to Dodgers)
  • Sacramento River Cats (from A’s to Giants)
  • Fresno Grizzlies (from Giants to Brewers or A’s)
  • Nashville Sounds (from Brewers to A’s)
  • Albuquerque Isotopes (from Dodgers to Astros)

Other changes to look for in the future are the Round Rock Express (owned by the Ryan family) switching affiliations from the Rangers to the Astros after 2018, and the Reno Aces, whose relationship with the City of Reno and Washoe County has been strained at times. The Twins just announced an two-year extension of their PDC with the Rochester Red Wings, cutting off a potential switch candidate for the Mets. And the Angels extended with the Salt Lake City Bees earlier in the spring.

16 thoughts on “AAA Shuffle Begins with Guber’s Purchase of OKC RedHawks

  1. @ ML
    I was wondering, the A’s already indicated, that they will go with Nashville, and the Astros with Albuquerque? Or is that your best guesstament? thanks.
    I made below comment, on previous post:
    With the LA Dodgers moving their triple an affiliate, to Oklahoma City if the San Francisco Giants, take Sacramento (is there any doubt, they will), that would open up an opportunity in Albuquerque. I know most would like to go with Fresno, but Albuquerque has a really nice ballpark, good business community (mid-sized market), and although it won’t be as convenient as Sacramento, Albuquerque is a short air flight to about 130 of the A’s games, plus it’s the one option that’s the nearest to me.

    • Problem with Albuquerque is the same problem the Dodgers have with it, the altitude. It really skews your players development. Players already look exaggeratedly good, or bad if they’re pitchers, based on being in AAA. Add in the altitude and dry desert air and you’ve got a receipe for disaster. The Padres had a similar problem moving players from high desert Tucson down to ocean air sea level Petco Park a few years ago. The A’s would end up in the same boat with Albuquerque and O.co.

      • @ Dan
        Your right, I was just hoping more than anything else. Although you would have to admit, they don’t call it the happy hitting PLC, for no reason, regardless of where a team plays in the league, you’re going to have games in Albuquerque, Salt Lake, EL Paso, Las Vegas, Reno, and Colorado Springs, so you’re going to have to factor in, the high altitudes, desert, and dry air, to a certain extent anyway.

  2. LAD leaving the Isotopes behind has to come as a bit of a surprise. The ‘topes have been one of the true success stories of the PCL in recent years, and a big chunk of it has been due to the talent stream that the Dodgers have been able to route through there. Altitude considerations are always going to be tough when you have teams in COS, SLC, Reno, ABQ, etc. It is what it is.

    Fresno’s main problem, however, is more organic: It’s Fresno. Absent a loyal (and reasonably local) MLB affiliate, I do not see a AAA team surviving in Fresno out past the next PDC.

  3. So why would the A’s ownership not consider buying the Sacramento Rivercats for $40Mish, or the Fresno Grizzlies for ~$20-25M? Wouldn’t it be better to retain the geographic advantage of being able to call players up to the big club the day of the game and having them arrive that evening? Or, if the Rivercats owners refused to sell even with a Godfather offer, buying the Grizzlies and then moving them to Fremont?

    The way affliliations are done seems very archaic to me, given how valuable MLB franchises are, and how wealthy MLB owners are. These men pay more money for a mediocre free agent than the entire value of a AAA franchise. And that AAA franchise has a signficant impact upon player development.

    (Signed, poor person who tells rich people how to spend their money)

    • Back in the 60s and 70s many major league teams did own their minor league affiliates. The problem with that model is that the major league team then has to operate a minor league business operation in another city — marketing the minor league team, selling tickets, maintaining the facilities, hiring and managing front office personnel, arranging radio broadcasts, etc.

      It’s more efficient, and better for both sides, if the minor league team is an independent business with just a player development contract with the big league club.

    • Because it’s not just about the convenience of calling up guys to the big club. There’s moving guys around to and from Midland and Phoenix, and team travel to other cities. There is no Godfather-like offer the A’s can make to Sacramento. And Fresno looks dicey because of the team constantly hemorrhaging money.

      • ML, is there any advantage to LW buying a portion of the Grizz or another team? I know the comments above about the 70’s, but would doing somethinglike Guber is doing help the team out long term?

      • Sure if you know you can make money off it. That’s not a given in Fresno. Look at the Giants – they invested in the SJ Giants for obvious reasons, but have left their AA (Richmond) and AAA (Fresno) affiliates to flounder. Having stability helps, but in the end it may be more trouble than it’s worth.

  4. It just occurred to me that the Rivercats intern that trolls the hell out of the Aces better find better things to troll them about in the near future, cause the Giants AAA team ain’t all that good.

  5. That Oklahoma city park is pretty nice, and right downtown and very close to the thunder arena. Oklahoma city is really a pretty nice place. I have my hopes the A’s land in Nashville. That’s a cool city also.

  6. The Mets having their AAA farm team(Las Vegas) across the country three time zones from NY is a Joke. This is indicative of the joke of an operation that the Mets are being run under the Wilpon ownership. The Mets had their AAA team for the longest time in Norfolk Va., and more recently in Buffalo, both in convenient proximity to the parent club. However, over more recent years the Mets have refused to stock their farm teams with sufficient talent potential(except pitching). As a result, minor league teams no longer wanted to affiliate with the Mets. At the time that the Mets had signed up with Las Vegas, it was the only AAA franchise remaining without an affiliation. Cashman Field is also considered one of the worst AAA facilities, as well.

    • Vegas-based A’s fan here – – and your evaluation of Cashman Field is spot-on. Something called the Summerlin Las Vegas Baseball Club LLC bought the club in May 2013, with the intention of building a new ballpark out in the suburbs, but nothing official has been announced yet.

      I would love to see the 51s in white shoes. It would be better for the franchise, since the attendance usually picks up when the team is successful. There are plenty of flights between Las Vegas and just about anywhere. But the current park is so antiquated, it’s probably a non-starter for the A’s.

    • Does minor league attendance correlate well with the team’s won-lost record?

      Serious question. I have no idea. It just always seemed to me that people go to minor league games as more of a family night out or scout or Little League activity, without caring that much about the PCL or California League pennant race. And if that’s the case, I would expect the minor league franchises to seek PDCs based mainly on financial considerations and maybe a chance to ride a popular major league brand — rather than worry much about which MLB team will furnish the best players. But maybe I am wrong about this.

      • To a degree, probably not as much as the bigs. Take for instance the Las Vegas 51s. They have the best record in the PCL this year. Because of the climate and the not-so-great ballpark, they have the worst attendance. They routinely have among the worst. Albuquerque is consistently one of the better attendance performers, yet the Isotopes have been dismal this year.

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