(Just because I do my best, typo-ridden work in the middle of the night.)
Well, this offseason’s affiliation shuffle just got very, very interesting. Or much less interesting, depending on your perspective.
Over the weekend, the Harrisburg Senators announced that they had extended their affiliation with the Washington Nationals through 2012. This was a surprise because it had been public knowledge that the Richmond Flying Squirrels were courting the nearby Nationals. It made sense; the Nationals were a nearby market, and Richmond is a Triple-A quality market that was a former Orioles territory that the Nationals would want to nail down.
However, Richmond comes with its warts, the biggest being its stadium. The Diamond isn’t as terrible a stadium as some, but it is clearly sub-par, and has limited offenses both when it hosted the Richmond Braves and this season’s Squirrels. Meanwhile, the facilities are very old and it is not the fan-friendliest venue, although the franchise itself has been complimented for attracting fans with fun and entertaining events.
Meanwhile, Harrisburg is coming off a season where they hosted the Eastern League All-Star Game with a nearly completely rebuilt stadium and state-of-the-art facilities. Their market, meanwhile, is considered so highly that the Baltimore Orioles fought a few years ago to unsuccessfully bring a Triple-A team to the market.
The extension, coupled with an announcement that Corpus Christi Hooks and the Houston Astros extended through 2016, means that Double-A has just seven expiring contracts, including the Giants and the Squirrels.
Since affiliation agreements usually are more controlled by the minor league squad than the major league squad, the question is, do the Squirrels have someone worth considering to come in who are better than the Giants? There is still a sense of familiarity. Despite the move, the Squirrels do not have a new owner, as Lou DiBella was unable to sell the team but still moved them. DiBella has owned the franchise since 2005, and the Giants have been affiliated with the Navigators/Defenders/Squirrels since 2003.
However, being in a new (and much bigger market) will definitely make the Squirrels more interesting to other teams than when they were the Connecticut Defenders in 2008. That season, the Giants and Defenders were openly (at least, as openly as possible) searching for new dance partners, but they were essentially left as the last two teams standing and were left with each other. There was clearly bad blood that season, but it’s unclear if it still stands.
The six other current affiliations due to expire are as follows:
• Erie SeaWolves (EL) - Detroit Tigers
• Huntsville Stars (SL) - Milwaukee Brewers
• Montgomery Biscuits (SL) - Tampa Bay Rays
• West Tennessee Diamond Jaxx (SL) - Seattle Mariners
• Arkansas Travelers (TL) - Los Angeles Angels
• San Antonio Missions (TL) - San Diego Padres
That list doesn’t have any clear favorites for a change. Sure, almost any team would be closer to Richmond than the Giants. But Detroit, Tampa and Milwaukee share no significant connection with Virginia fans, either. None of their farm systems stand out as having been significantly better than the Giants, although since the promotions of Madison Bumgarner and Buster Posey, the Giants system isn’t very prominent, either.
On the other side, the Giants aren’t a significantly better fit with any of the available minor league franchises. Former managing general partner of the Giants Peter Magowan made his preference of the Eastern League clear, though he presided over a team with a Texas League affiliate for nearly a decade. The preferences, if any, of Bill Neukom are unknown. San Antonio would be the geographically closest choice, but they have had a solid relationship with the Padres. Huntsville and Montogmery offer a solid proximity to the Low-A Augusta GreenJackets (who are also up for affiliation, but are expected to renew), which is a factor in decisions so that the two east coast clubs can move players up and down in emergency situations when needed. However, Montgomery and Tampa are also close, and are expected to renew.
Nothing is for sure, but it’s beginning to look like the Giants and Squirrels may stick with each other.