MIAMI - The Nationals announced they have signed a player development contract with Triple-A Fresno Grizzlies of the Pacific Coast League for the 2019 and 2020 seasons.
Nationals president of baseball operations and general manager Mike Rizzo said the club had preferred to go to Nashville, Tenn., after the New York Mets purchased the Syracuse Chiefs. But the Nashville Sounds agreed to a four-year deal with the Texas Rangers. That left the Nats with Fresno. The Houston Astros had left Fresno to go to Round Rock, Texas.
“Well, it was a team that had interest in us,” Rizzo said. “They were second choice. Obviously, we made it clear that Nashville was our primary choice. They chose somebody else. We ended up going to a place that wanted us and we’re happy with it.”
The Nationals previously played their Triple-A games in Syracuse (2009-18), Columbus (2007-08) and New Orleans (2005-06) since their inception in 2005.
Fresno began play in 1998, serving as a Triple-A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants until 2014 before joining the Houston Astros player in 2015.
The Grizzlies play at Chukchansi Park, an 11,800 seat stadium in downtown Fresno, Calif., and are in the Northern Division along with the Reno Aces, Tacoma Rainers and Sacramento River Cats.
Fresno presents difficult travel issues for the Nats. No longer will players get to hop in their cars for a drive from Syracuse to D.C. to meet up with the team like outfielder Andrew Stevenson did this season.
Fresno is a three-hour drive to San Francisco International Airport and three hours and 40 minutes from Los Angeles. There are no commercial nonstop flights from Fresno to D.C.
According to the travel site Kayak.com, the quickest connection for flights from Fresno to Washington, D.C., is six hours and 30 minutes through Denver or Chicago.
Rizzo understands the burden travel will have on making moves to get players to the Nats if they are playing on the East Coast.
“I think it’s real. It’s something that we’re going to have to work around. We’re going to have to make adjustments for sure. It’s not going to be as convenient as Harrisburg is or Syracuse was and that type of thing so we’ll have to make do.”
Is Rizzo concerned that Pacific Coast League stadiums have a reputation of being tough on pitchers?
“No, I don’t think so,” Rizzo said. “We’ll evaluate our players conducive to their ability level. We’ve scouted guys in the Pacific Coast League before and the International League so I don’t think that will be a hinderance at all.”
So with two years locked in to Fresno, how likely is the club to enthusiastically pursue an East Coast team for the 2021 campaign? Rizzo said that is their goal and was their goal going into negotiations this time around with Nashville and Fresno.
“We’ll obviously be looking for better options that fit better geographically in the future,” Rizzo said. “But as of now we’re satisfied with Fresno. They wanted us there. We want to be there. So, it’s going to be all good.”