Washington Nationals announce affiliation with Fresno Grizzlies
By Blake Finney
The Washington Nationals ended the mystery over their Triple-A affiliation when they announced a player development agreement with the Fresno Grizzlies.
After the Syracuse Chiefs ended their 10 season relationship with the Washington Nationals, the franchise needed a new Triple-A affiliate. As the minor league merry-go-round ended, they ended up with the Fresno Grizzlies.
The Fresno outfit has just concluded a four-season deal with the World Series champion Houston Astros. And before that, they were the San Francisco Giants, who won two World Series in that time, so the Nats will hope that some of that magic rubs off of them.
But this new affiliate represents a huge geographical, and therefore a big logistical challenge for the Nationals. Fresno, located in central California, has a small airport, with no direct flights to D.C., meaning a player could take in excess of six hours to get to Nats Park.
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General manager Mike Rizzo was obviously aware of this, and made it known that an agreement with the Nashville Sounds was the team’s first preference. He told Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post “[Fresno] was our second choice. Obviously, we made it clear Nashville was our primary choice and they chose someone else”.
Neither the fact that the Nats’ first choice was Nashville, or that the Sounds chose the Texas Rangers should come as a surprise. The Nationals Triple-A squads have not faired overly well since 2009 when they started their affiliation with Syracuse.
In those 10 seasons, the team was only been able to finish above .500 three of those years and only made the playoffs once. The underperformance of those teams and the possibility that the Rangers simply put forward a more appealing package to develop players in the Music City would explain that outcome. With Player Development Contracts, there is usually very little financial difference between teams offers, therefore the organization must’ve fallen short in other areas.
But now that the decision has been made, they must now focus on making the arrangement with the Grizzlies work to the best of their abilities. While the situation is far from ideal, there may at least be a few positive to take from the partnership.
The Pacific Coast League has generally been regarded as a hitters haven, so they may be able to give hitters a confidence boost and allow them to develop in favorable conditions. And with the pedigree of their former parent clubs, they may be able to lesrn from those associated with the Grizzlies.
They also have some pretty cool promos, including their themed taco unis, as you can see below.
But no matter how the unis look, the geographical obstacle looms large and could affect how the team handles its prospects. With the Harrisburg Senators more favorably located, the team may choose to leave some of its emergency prospects there, rather than sending them to Fresno.
For example, when a doubleheader is required for the big league team, and they get the 26th man, they could call on a current Senator. That would save a fringe player making the long journey to-and-fro for limited game-time, if they even get any at all.
The Washington Nationals and Fresno Grizzlies will probably have a short relationship, with separation likely to occur after 2020. But in the meantime, they will hope to have a successful development partnership.