Rangers Set To Kick Off Affiliation Shuffle

Triple-A Round Rock is expected to confirm a summer's worth of rumors on Thursday by announcing that it will end an 11-year relationship with the Astros to sign a player-development contract with the Rangers.

The affiliation unites two Nolan Ryan-owned ballclubs: The Express are guided by the Ryan-Sanders ownership group and the Rangers finally became Ryan's after he and veteran minor league operator Chuck Greenberg completed an arduous process to purchase the team from Tom Hicks last month.

The move will come on the first day of a 15-day period when teams are allowed to negotiate player development contracts with other clubs and likely will be the biggest move of the affiliation shuffle. It also ends an era in Oklahoma City, Texas' Triple-A affiliate since 1983 and the home ballpark of the Triple-A National Championship game.

The RedHawks, who today will announce the completion of the team's sale to Mandalay Baseball, are arguably the most desirable Triple-A team left on the market thanks to one of the minors' nicest facilities in AT&T Bricktown Ballpark and a loyal fan base. The Astros previously expressed interest in moving to Oklahoma City if they were indeed forced out of Round Rock.

“If the Rangers realign and go to Round Rock, that would open up Oklahoma City, and that certainly meets all the criteria,” Astros general manager Ed Wade told the Houston Chronicle in early August.

An Astros move to Oklahoma City would leave just four unsigned Triple-A clubs, all in the Pacific Coast League: Las Vegas (which is currently affiliated with the Blue Jays), Nashville (Brewers), Portland (Padres) and Sacramento (Athletics). The Blue Jays earlier publicly expressed their interest to remain in Las Vegas, despite playing at aging Cashman Field and the affiliate's distance from Toronto, because of the convenience of Las Vegas' expansive international airport. The Athletics and Sacramento have been together since 2000 and make geographic sense to remain aligned. Nashville has been a Brewers affiliate since 2005 but the Sounds have been unsuccessful in their attempts to replace 32-year-old Greer Stadium—a prospect made even more difficult after the disastrous flooding in Nashville last spring.

Portland's situation is easily the most unique. A group headed by Padres owner Jeff Moorad is negotiating to purchase the Beavers, which must leave the city after owner Merritt Paulson agreed to convert PGE Park into a soccer-only facility to host his Major League Soccer team next year. Moorad's group would like to relocate the team to Southern California, but has yet to complete a deal for a new ballpark—though it has been in negotiations with officials from the San Diego suburb of Escondido.

Meanwhile, the Pacific Coast League needs to settle on a temporary location for the team in 2011. A proposal for Portland to share high Class A Lake Elsinore's ballpark for one season is the front-runner, but is also dependent on Moorad's group purchasing the Beavers.

"There has been considerable dialogue about Lake Elsinore and that continues to be a possibility," PCL president Branch Rickey said. "But the pressure of going forward and preparing for next season puts us in a situation that we insist some decisions be finalized . . . If some timelines can't be reached, then it can mean we may have to go in a different direction."

Just three Double-A teams enter the affiliation shuffle unsigned: Erie (Tigers, Eastern League), Huntsville (Brewers, Southern League) and San Antonio (Padres, Texas League).

There is likely to be some movement on the high Class A level, as seven teams remain available. They include, in the California League: Bakersfield (Rangers), Inland Empire (Dodgers) and Rancho Cucamonga (Angels); and in the Carolina League: Kinston (Indians), Lynchburg (Reds), Myrtle Beach (Braves) and Potomac (Nationals). The Mariners renewed their PDC with High Desert yesterday.

The Rangers four-year affiliation with Bakersfield has come to an end and Texas has made clear their displeasure of playing in dilapidated Sam Lynn Ballpark. A Rangers move to Myrtle Beach has been rumored, as the Pelicans are owned by new Rangers co-owner Greenberg.

Meanwhile, the long-term home of Bakersfield remains uncertain. Bakersfield is in need of a new facility, as its home ballpark no longer meets facility standards. Cal League president Charlie Blaney has expressed his desire to keep the team in Bakersfield, calling the city the premier market in the league, but has yet to find funding for a new stadium.

If the Rangers do come to Myrtle Beach, the Braves would certainly seek to find a new home in the Carolina League rather than be forced out West, which could lead to a race for the three remaining Carolina League clubs. Kinston has been an Indians affiliate since 1987. Potomac resides roughly 30 miles outside of Washington, D.C., and makes geographic sense to remain with the Nationals. Lynchburg just completed its first season with the Reds after the Pirates left town for the Florida State League.

Three low Class A teams remain unaffiliated, including two Midwest League affiliates: Burlington (Royals) and Kane County (Athletics). Augusta (Giants) is the only unaffiliated team in the South Atlantic League. Quad Cities renewed its affiliation with the Cardinals yesterday.

Check out the affiliation shuffle chart for a complete listing of teams still available and visit BaseballAmerica.com to keep up to date on the latest news.