Nats to Look for a new AAA Affiliate for 2019

By now, you’ve probably heard that the New York Mets have bought the Syracuse Chiefs, which have been the Nationals’ AAA affiliate since 2009.

Details at this point are still scarce – we don’t know, for example, how much the sale price was or whether the Chiefs approached the Mets or vice-versa. At this point, I tend to believe the latter.

Why? Because for the past 10 years, the trend has been for major-league teams to buy affiliates to ensure a desired location or environment, as J.J. Cooper of Baseball America writes here. As any East Coast team would be, the Mets were unhappy with the logistics of flying a player from the West Coast.

More intriguing is Cooper’s environment argument, which has seen the California League lose two teams and the Carolina League expanded by two and two franchises purchased (Salem by Boston in 2009, Carolina by Milwaukee this year). It’s almost mandatory for a prospect writer to excuse poor pitching and discount good hitting in the CAL. It also makes it harder for the analytics folks to break down, and even harder for the casual fans to understand (well, aside from “the whole league is like the Colorado Rockies”).

As the headline suggests, the Nats are now back to trying to find a new home for their roster-fill…er, AAA team. The knee-jerk analysis is that they’ll end up in the market that the Mets are leaving: Las Vegas. While certainly possible, there are 17 teams that have expiring PDCs after next season and nine of them are in the PCL like Vegas, baby (sorry, autocorrect).

Presuming that the Nationals will want to stay in the I.L. and not knowing the politics of the PDCs, my best guess is that Washington will make a play for Rochester. Given the Baltimore-DC rivalry, I know lots of folks would want a shot at Norfolk, but do you remember that time when the O’s were outbid or outmaneuvered by the Nats? Not to mention, I’m not sure if the drive will be any shorter.

In any case, the relative stability of the affiliates — same five since 2010 — has been shaken and changes are coming.

Author: Luke Erickson

Since 2009, Luke Erickson has been chief writer, editor, and bottle-washer of NationalsProspects.com. Potomac is his home base as a season-ticket holder, but he has visited every affiliate north of Florida at least once, with multiple trips to Hagerstown and Harrisburg.

27 thoughts on “Nats to Look for a new AAA Affiliate for 2019”

  1. In an ideal world, the Nats would move their AAA team to Richmond, which has a long previous history in the IL and a somewhat recently refurbished stadium. Failing that, shoot for a place that has an airport large enough to make direct flights to MLB cities. I’ve flown to Rochester before, and you can’t get there from here.

    I’d definitely prefer that the affiliate stay in the IL. The PCL is just too far removed from both the base of team operations and the cities where the Nats play most of their games. It’s also next to impossible to get a meaningful read on stats of players in the PCL because so many of the cities are at altitude.

    Or put the AAA affiliate in Woodbridge and build a real stadium! (We kid because we care.)

    1. Baby steps, KW – we’re trying to get an upgrade on advanced-Rookie stadium in Woodbridge. (And that’s being ***very*** kind)

      1. I was indeed kidding. However, just for the fun of it, I’ll point out that Prince William County has a population of ~450,000, more than that of eight cities with MLB teams. Fairfax County’s population is over a million. The O’s have a well-supported AA team in Bowie, which is closer to Camden Yard than the Pfitz is to Nats Park.

  2. My comment about Rochester having attended a game there ?
    The engineers designed the stance of the stadium wrong in position with the sun . They could almost use a shift of the stadium like the diner near me being unearthed and literally moved a few hundred feet shifting the stance .
    Roark has to pitch his best Greg Maddox esque vs Arrieta
    Feeling very Kowalksi ( Gran Torino )

  3. I guess Rochester would be preferable to playing in the PCL, but Richmond (realize that would mean that a current AAA city would lose their AAA status as Richmond presently plays in AA) or Norfolk (realize that would mean the Orioles would lose their affiliation to the Nats, which the Orioles would fight) would be preferable. The weather sucks in Rochester until mid-May, and it’s not readily accessible from DC. If Richmond or Norfolk aren’t available, Scranton, PA (presently the Yankees), Durham, NC (presently the Rays) or Charlotte (presently the White Sox) would be better/more convenient options IMO than Rochester (or Vegas).

    BTW, Rochester (383 miles from Nats Park; 6 hour 30 minute drive; no non-stop air service) is not as accessible as Norfolk (195 miles; 3 hours 12 minute drive; with non-stop air service to DC) or even Durham (259 miles; 4 hours and 9 minute drive; also with non-stop air service to DC).

    When the Braves left Richmond for Gwinnett, the Nats had the opportunity to go to into Richmond (105 miles; 1 hour and 47 minute drive), and work with the City to renovate the “Diamond” as developers would think that would play into Lerner’s strengths. There is a reason why MLB teams are buying AAA teams; it gives the MLB parent more control, and the minor league teams are generally profitable.

    1. I had also thought of Charlotte. It certainly would have the best air access to DC or wherever else the big club might be playing.

      1. Both Charlotte and Richmond have PDCs through 2020. But if they were available, the choice would be easy: Charlotte. The Diamond in Richmond is the Pfitz with more concrete and the local government isn’t any better than the PWC Board of Supervisors.

        I’m told Indianapolis could be wooed away from the Pirates and if the Nats were to pick one PCL franchise to gun for, Nashville (currently an A’s affiliate). But again, there’s undoubtedly some politics that we’re not aware of since (A) this only comes up every two years (B) only when negotiations go badly is it written about all that much.

        1. MLB requires now that all PDCs be either two or four years. Most are two.

          I think the A’s have some stake in Nashville. They just moved there.

          I LIKE The Diamond.

          You can follow it after next year when it comes up again on Baseball America’s website or on Ballpark Digest. Both keep ongoing lists of who is affiliating with whom. the Mets and Vegas got each other because they were the last ones standing. Don’t be the last ones standing.

          1. I remember that the Mets and Blue Jays fought over Buffalo a few years back because the loser would end up in Vegas. The Jays won and I suspect they’d win again in a battle with almost any other affiliate.

        2. Indianapolis would be another irony. Ex- po affiliate where AAA had some nice pennant wining clubs under Buck Rodgers and Joe Sparks. Not to mention WPB new spring digs after expos left old spring site nearby Tony Roma’s . Dusty was in that site in 1968 of course
          Biggest game of Roark career today
          Hello from South Korea

      1. The other thing to consider is that Colorado Springs, currently Milwaukee’s affiliate, is moving to San Antonio after 2018, and they will no doubt affiliate with Houston. I hope the Nats don’t wind up with Fresno.

    2. there are direct (non-stop) flights from BWI to Rochester via Southwest Airlines. I’ve done this multiple times as I have relatives in Rochester.

    1. I know I’ve said it before that that’s probably the outcome that would make the most people happy, though some (*cough* Art Silber *cough*) more than others.

  4. The only way that the Nationals would get Norfolk would be if they bought the Tides from Ken Young. His company, Maryland Baseball Holdings, owns half of the Orioles’ minor league franchises — Norfolk, Bowie, and Frederick — so there’s a clear relationship between him and the Orioles. If the Nationals did try to buy the Tides, chances are high that Angelos would become involved directly, and it would probably become a bidding war very quickly.

    Durham would be an interesting move.

    Richmond is probably the ideal the destination, but it would take a number of moves before that happened — the Nationals “claiming” Richmond by switching their AA affiliation from the Senators to the Squirrels first, then getting their AAA team relocated to Richmond and relocating the AA team elsewhere within the Eastern League footprint. And, at some point, a new stadium in Richmond would need to be built.

    The problem in Richmond is that the Diamond is a dump, and the three jurisdictions in the area don’t want to get along about replacing it. Henrico and Chesterfield Counties see it as a purely City of Richmond issue since the City wants the stadium within city limits, and adding VCU as a tenant (which now brings the Commonwealth in) hasn’t moved the needle any. I tend to think that any replacement of the Diamond will have to be privately financed (to get around the local politics roadblocks), and they will need to look outside of that narrow footprint along The Boulevard where they want it built. (If it were up to me, I’d build a new Richmond stadium in Manchester between 360 and 95, across the James from downtown, so that downtown and the government core are visible beyond the outfield wall.)

    1. I suspect that brigning Richmond back into AAA will await MLB expansion, and that awaits determination of teh Oakland and Tampa Bay situations.

    2. Thanks for the background info… I knew it wasn’t simple. I had lost track of the finer details of Richmond’s stadium battle, but my impression that it’s similar to the cluster in PWC (minus the racist carpetbagger, natch) and I’d agree it’s probably going to take private funding to happen (if it does).

  5. I would love to pull Norfolk out from under the Baltimore club. Failing that, Rochester would be about the same as Syracuse. If Charlotte is available, that would be a good, relatively close affiliate. (But the White Sox have a top-level farm system.) At worst, Indianapolis would be an OK fit. they have Pittsburgh now. Remember, the Nats had Columbus for a couple of years.

    Could they pull Durham out from under Tampa Bay? That arrangement has been going on since the Rays began.

    I’d really like to avoid the PCL if at all possible. When can they get AAA back in Richmond?

  6. Thanks to all for so many informative comments. As Tip O’Neill famously said, “All politics is local,” and so is every stadium deal.

  7. This is troubling. We need to pray we don’t get stuck with Vegas… like years ago when we were stuck with New Orleans.

    In terms of travel, the International League West teams are the best bet. Every city in that division has a large enough airport to get direct flights to nearly every Major League city. Columbus isn’t going to happen (I live here and the Clippers/Indians seem to be a match made in heaven). Same goes for the Mud Hens with Detroit and the Bats with Cincy. Indy would be great, but that deal isn’t up til 2020.

    The Tides won’t happen (even though it is ideal) because of the Orioles close relationship with their owners.

    That leaves Durham and Charlotte, both of whom have long ties to their current affiliates. We need to avoid the New York teams like the plague in my opinion… unless not going with one means we’re stuck with Vegas.

    We should also look into setting up shop in the Appalachia League. Pulaski and Bluefield open up after 2018. Sadly the Reds already bought Greeneville, which has a fantastic stadium.

  8. Just judging from what’s available in 2018 and realistic (sorry Norfolk, Richmond), it looks like Nashville is the best of the available options. One thing Nashville would have going in its favor compared to Syracuse are double the number of nonstop flights to DC. Plus, Oakland is a new tenant so there isn’t a legacy chain to break unlike say Toledo.

  9. Lerners need to buy both the Squirrels in Richmond, make them AA. Then make deal with Richmond for a new stadium in the way of Richmond providing infrastructure and Lerners paying for the actual stadium in the only place that will happen, across the street from the Diamond (better for people coming/going from the north of Richmond). Move the Chiefs to Rochester for two years (contract) and then buy a AAA team, move them to Richmond once the stadium’s built, and move the AA in Richmond back to Harrisburg if its still available.

    1. You aren’t going to have any Triple A franchises that can be moved until expansion. Unless we can get Durham or Charlotte, it looks to me like Nashville is the best bet.

  10. Can’t see them getting back into IL, though they’d be thrilled to end up back in New York. Buffalo and Rochester are great parks. Outside chance Twins would go to LV–not that much further by plane from Roch., but wouldn’t like having to call up somebody from Tacoma.

    Best chance might be trading with Oakland since LV is apparently getting a new ballpark; however, nothing in PCL is good for an east coast team.

    Other scenarios–Richmond, leaving Harrisburg, etc.–unrealistic for 2019, if ever.

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