It's safe to say that the Oakland Athletics are happy with their situation in Stockton.
Oakland, which was already inked with the high Class A California League affiliate through the 2012 season, added another two years to their player development contract (PDC) with the Ports yesterday to extend their relationship through the 2014 season.
The two organizations have been linked since the 2005 season, when the Ports unveiled Banner Island Ballpark. The first-rate facility, and its proximity to the Bay Area, are apparently big draws for the Athletics.
"As a Single-A affiliate, Stockton provides us with an ideal situation in regards to a first-class playing facility, a supportive fan base and its close proximity to the Bay Area. We look forward to continuing this very successful association," Athletics general manager Billy Beane said in a statement.
The bi-annual affiliate shuffle won't truly kick into gear until this offseason, when roughly 90 PDCs expire for teams at all levels of the minors. However, the first week of the minor league season has seen two other minor league teams extend long-term agreements with their big league partners.
The Double-A Birmingham Barons (Southern League) extended its PDC with the White Sox two years to run through the 2014 season. The Double-A Binghamton Mets also extended its PDC two years through 2014 with the New York Mets.
(Player development contracts between major and minor league teams are for a minimum of two years and may be extended in two-year increments. Teams can extend PDCs during the season but cannot negotiate with other affiliates until after the season concludes.)
Some interesting early PDC story lines to watch (note that teams are not allowed to discuss these contracts to avoid collusion):
• Richmond/Harrisburg: The Double-A Richmond Flying Squirrels made their home debut in the Diamond last night after relocating from Connecticut at the start of the season. The Flying Squirrels are in the final year of a PDC with the Giants, and though San Francisco brings plenty of talented prospects through the system, it would make sense that Richmond would be interested in a major league affiliate with more regional appeal — notably the Washington Nationals, whose PDC with the Harrisburg Senators expires after this season as well.
A Nationals-Flying Squirrels partnership would seem to make sense from a business standpoint — it would provide all sorts of marketing opportunities for a Richmond club looking to plant roots in the community. It would also help the Nationals grow its base of fans in an area that does not have another major league team nearby — Harrisburg is pretty firmly entrenched in Phillies/Orioles territory.
The hitch could be if the deal doesn't make player development sense for the Nationals. Harrisburg, which is not much further from D.C. than Richmond, just unveiled a new ballpark that certainly trumps the aging Diamond in Richmond — a facility that helped drive the Braves out of town following the 2008 season. New Richmond owner Lou DiBella did sink about $1.5 million into non-revenue generating ballpark renovations, which included new clubhouses, and perhaps more improvements could help lure the Nats to town.
• Bakersfield/High Desert: The Rangers' four-year contract with Bakersfield, which prevented Texas from looking for a new affiliate during the last shuffle two years ago, expires after this season. It is safe to presume that Texas will be looking for a new high Class A home.
The Rangers expressed their frustration with high Class A Bakersfield (California League) last year after long-promised facility renovations (or a new ballpark altogether) had not been delivered. The city of Bakersfield is in no position to improve Sam Lynn Ballpark, which no longer meets Minor League Baseball facility standards, considering the region's current fiscal crisis. A previous proposed partnership for a new ballpark on the campus of Cal State Bakersfield fell through last year.
New California League president Charlie Blaney has been on the hunt for new markets within the California League footprint, and there has been some optimism that a deal could be done in the long-term. But it would seem likely that High Desert, not Bakersfield, would get the first shot at a new a home.
High Desert owner Bobby Brett needs to sell the team after buying fellow Cal League affiliate Rancho Cucamonga last season (he has been given a temporary exemption by the National Association to own two teams in the same league). Further complicating matters is that High Desert's lease for Mavericks Stadium with city of Adelanato expires after this season, and local officials have previously indicated they would increase the team's rent.
Like Bakersfield, High Desert's PDC with the Mariners also expires this season. It would be a safe bet that they will be the last two high Class A affiliates to sign on with a major league team this fall.
• Round Rock and Nolan Ryan: There have been plenty of rumors that this will be the Astros' final season in Triple-A Round Rock because Express owner Nolan Ryan will likely bring the Rangers to town. Ryan is on the verge of becoming a co-owner of the Texas Rangers with veteran minor league operator Chuck Greenberg.
The Astros have been affiliated with Round Rock since the club's debut in 2000 in the Double-A Texas League and remained with the Express after it moved up to the Pacific Coast League in 2005.
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