The Nationals will play Triple-A baseball in Rochester, N.Y., in 2021, a club source has confirmed. The Nats’ contract with the Fresno Grizzlies of the Pacific Coast League expired after last season. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Nats ended up playing only 140 games affiliated with Fresno. There is no confirmation how long the Nats’ contract is with Rochester. The Nats had a two-year deal in Fresno, and their Triple-A team was based in Syracuse, N,Y., from 2009-18.
The International League’s Rochester Red Wings were affiliated with the Twins, who are reportedly moving their Triple-A operations to St. Paul, Minn., in 2021.
Rochester is about a seven-hour drive to D.C. and Buffalo International Airport is just an hour away. This will be a much better setup for the Nats because Fresno is 2,800 miles from Nationals Park and there are no direct commercial flights from Fresno to D.C.
With their Triple-A team based in Fresno, the Nats had to have a player pass through three time zones in order to make transfers, making it difficult for the Nats when it was necessary to call up a player quickly from Triple-A. It sometimes took a full day or night to get the player to D.C. With a team in Rochester, United Airlines nonstop flights take just 85 minutes, a similar time to what the Nats had when they were affiliated with Syracuse.
The Twins had been affiliated with Rochester since 2003. The city has been affiliated with the Cardinals and the Orioles as well, dating to 1929. The Red Wings play their home games in downtown Rochester at Frontier Field, which seats 13,500.
The Nats still have a very good relationship with Double-A Harrisburg and a brand-new ballpark in Fredericksburg for high Single-A baseball. But low Single-A Hagerstown was rumored as one of the cities likely to be eliminated, so the Nats would need a new low Single-A affiliate for 2021 if that occurs.
It is likely that the Nats will end their affiliation with short-season Single-A Auburn because Major League Baseball is considering eliminating 42 minor league teams, including all of the New York-Penn League, where Auburn plays.
The news of the Nats’ Triple-A move to Rochester was first reported by Justin Murphy in The Democrat and Chronicle.
Update: The Nationals released a statement from president of baseball operations and general manager Mike Rizzo on the new relationship with the Red Wings:
“We are very excited to partner with the Rochester Red Wings and to have our Triple-A affiliate back in the region. The Red Wings are a well built, well run organization that will be an asset to our player development system and we are proud to be a part of Rochester, New York’s rich baseball tradition that dates back to the late 1800s.”