Report: Nats in Rochester on 10-year deal, but Richmond still in play

Two and a half years ago, the Nationals agreed to a two-year deal to have their Triple-A team play out of Fresno, Calif., after they lost their affiliation deal with Syracuse to the Mets. But now the Nationals have agreed to move to Rochester, N.Y., for what is reported to be a long-term affiliation.

Kevin Reichard, founder and publisher of the Ballpark Digest, appearing on ESPN 95.7 FM Rochester on Friday, said Major League Baseball is looking for longer deals for each of its affiliates.

“(It’s a) 10-year deal. These are long-term commitments. For one thing, they are not affiliations. The Red Wings will become a licensee of Major League Baseball subject to all its rules, whims and guiding principles. So the national association will die.”

baseballs-in-bin-sidebar.jpgReichard reported that the Nats would have preferred to move to Richmond, Va., but in the end, the ballpark was not up to par for hosting a Triple-A team.

“I think the Nationals really wanted to be in Richmond, not because of the ballpark, and you are right, it is a concrete monstrosity falling down,” Reichard told Mike Danger and Gene Battaglia on ESPN Rochester. “There’s plans to build a new one. The Nationals were probably thinking, ‘Boy, Richmond down the road, what a great situation that would be,’ both in terms of player access and team marketing.”

Reichard said the ballpark facility situation favored Rochester. And if MLB allowed the Nats to relocate to Richmond instead of Rochester, the ripple effect would have been felt by several teams and created more issues than it solved.

“It was a play for the future,” Reichard said of the Nats’ deal with Rochester. “But the reorganization of minor league baseball involves facility stuff and it would’ve been really hypocritical for Major League Baseball to allow Richmond to go Triple-A, given the condition of the ballpark. So the Nats were lobbying for it, which is within their right. But it would’ve involved the Blue Jays coming to Rochester in Double-A, which would’ve meant them leaving Manchester, which would’ve been another team moving into Manchester and yada-yada-yada.”

Reichard also reported San Antonio and Wichita would lose their Triple-A teams. Those teams will shift down to the Texas League. The Twins will go to Wichita. Jacksonville will move up to the International League as a Marlins affiliate. Sugar Land will be in the Pacific Coast League and replace Round Rock as Houston’s Triple-A affiliate. He said the Astros purchased the Sugar Land team this week.

Reichard also said that the Nats’ 10-year deal with the Rochester Red Wings is not set in stone. Richmond could eventually be the Triple-A home for the Nats if they can first build a new ballpark, he said.

“There’s nothing at all to stop it,” Reichard said of the possibility of the Rochester deal being altered later. “This is what happens during the makeover of the game by Major League Baseball. They’ll make all the rules. But if Richmond gets a new ballpark - which is not guaranteed as of right now, there’s no ground being broken anytime soon, let’s put it that way - they could come down the pike in five years and the Nationals could lobby Major League Baseball to grant the Triple-A license to Richmond and leaving Rochester to flip spots. There’s no guarantee. This is a one-sided system these days that Major League Baseball is looking at, taking all the power away from the minor league affiliates.”

Reichard said minor league officials are looking to start their seasons in early May because they are looking at running spring training in two shifts. The minor league teams will come in and train at the end of March after the major league players have broken camp. And for now, the Nats will be playing in Rochester for a long time to come, and is a much better situation than the one they had in Fresno.

Here is my appearance on the show from Thursday, talking about the Nats minor league system and what Rochester fans could expect.

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