MLB puts Fresno in the stocks

MLB showed its true colors, if it had not done that already, by putting Fresno in the stocks. According to the Fresno Bee, MLB has told the city of Fresno and the local (former) AAA team Grizzlies to accept a demotion to Low A or not having affiliated ball at all.

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Understandably, both the Grizzlies and the city of Fresno are not keen on moving down to Low A ball. Since its inauguration in 1998, the team has been an AAA team. Mostly linked to the San Francisco Giants but since 2015, it had two different parent clubs. The Houston Astros (2015-2018) and the Washington Nationals (2019-2020).

According to MLB, no MLB club is interested in having the Grizzlies as an AAA team. Only the Colorado Rockies are reportedly interested to add the team to their farm system but only as a Low A team.

In a letter sent to the city of Fresno, MLB has threatened that Fresno will be excluded from affiliated ball if it doesn’t accept a demotion by coming Monday: “Because communications with the (Fresno) Grizzlies and City of Fresno have indicated they have no interest in operating a Single-A affiliate, we do not currently intend to offer any affiliation to the Grizzlies or Fresno,” Daniel R. Halem, deputy commissioner and chief legal officer for MLB, wrote in a letter emailed Wednesday to Mayor Lee Brand, Mayor Elect Jerry Dyer and the Fresno City Council.

Since the presentation of the plans to mutilate Minor League Baseball, the Fresno Grizzlies are scheduled to move to the California League. If the former alignment would still be in place, the demotion would be down only two levels but with the new alignment in which there will not be A-Advanced, A Full Season and A Short seasson but only High A and Low A, the club will drop three levels.

Imagine a ballpark that was created to host AAA ball with 10,000 seats. As California League games do not attract as many fans, many of those 10,000 seats in Chukchansi Park will become obsolete.

In the letter sent by MLB, it is stacking up the advantages of playing in Low A ball. Only one of these arguments is valid: The reduce of costs because of no or less air travel. When the Grizzlies still played in the Pacific Coast League, they had to travel to teams that were located in Louisiana, Texas or Oklahoma. Since MiLB rules require air travel with distances more than 500 miles, air travel can be quite an expense. Now the farthest team will be the Lake Elsinore Storm, which is located about 280-300 miles from Fresno. And that place will likely be visited in a road trip that contains more than one team to visit.

The other “advantages” MLB is talking about are: A Single-A affiliation is a viable, fan-friendly alternative for the City. Single-A affiliates can and do thrive. The economics of a Single-A affiliation may also be more favorable for ownership, given that Single-A teams are rarely required to fly to play opposing teams.Between savings on air travel and the anticipated elimination of expenses under the new player development system, which will require MLB to assume expenses related to umpires and league administration, we expect owners will see significant declines in operating expenses.”

May, anticipated, and expect… So MLB is only assuming that things will be more favorable for the owners of the Grizzlies.

Population-wise, Fresno is the fifth largest city in California behind Los Angeles, San Diego, San Jose and San Francisco. The city, the club and the fans use this as an excuse not to be demoted to Low A. But in fact that excuse is rather moot as San Jose, that is having almost 500,000 more inhabitants and which is the third largest city of California, is also playing in the California League. So in this case, size doesn’t matter.

The problem is that Fresno doesn’t have much of a choice. They could join an independent league but those leagues that are rather solid are located in the Midwest and Eastern part of the US. One of the Indy Leagues that is operating in the California/ Arizona hemisphere is the Pecos League, which is rather obscure. Next to California and Arizona, the Pecos League also has teams in Colorado, New Mexico, Texas and Kansas. The budgets of those teams are much lower than affiliated ball teams. Not the best players do play in that league, so don’t expect many fans to pass the turnstiles. There are two other indy leagues in the West: The Pacific Association and the Western Association of Professional Baseball Clubs (intended to start in Summer 2021) but these two are even more obscure than the Pecos League. The Western Association is still in a start up phase. The league intended to start in June 2020 but that had to be postponed due to Covid-19. So far, one club has been presented as an affiliate: The Henderson Woo. Even though the league claims more clubs will be announced, none have been so far.

Expect the Grizzlies to accept the demotion reluctantly for they have nowhere else to go.

3 Replies to “MLB puts Fresno in the stocks”

  1. No surprise about Fresno, since the demotion/return to the California League (with the independent St. Paul Saints moving to the PCL) has been rumored for months. The surprise is the Northwest League being bumped up from Short Season A to Advanced A while the Cali drops to Low A…I can guarantee that April nights are much warmer and drier in Fresno than Everett.

    Anyway, Fresno has no choice, really. As you stated, none of the Indy leagues in the west are an adequate replacement for a AAA team (the Pecos pays $50 per WEEK) and Fresno had a long history in the Cali before getting a PCL team. A 10,000-seat ballpark is twice the capacity they’ll ever need but sometimes you just have to play the hand you’re dealt.

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