Facing an ultimatum from Major League Baseball for the Fresno Grizzlies to accept a new affiliation level, the City of Fresno received an extension to explore the options for the future of professional baseball in the city.
The extension also signaled a shift in negotiators – from Fresno Mayor Lee Brand and Mayor-Elect Jerry Dyer to Fresno City Attorney Doug Sloan.
Earlier in November the Washington Nationals – the MLB affiliate of the Grizzlies for the last two years – announced a new Triple-A partnership with the Rochester Red Wings, leaving Fresno without a Major League affiliation.
Without any interest from any MLB teams to partner with the Grizzlies, MLB informed the City of Fresno last week that the Grizzlies must accept a demotion to a Low Single-A affiliation by Monday as part of the organizational restructuring taking place throughout Minor League Baseball.
That deadline has been extended, city attorney Doug Sloan said in a statement Monday.
“The City of Fresno is in communications with Major League Baseball and the owners of the Fresno Grizzlies, and we now have additional time to explore keeping professional baseball in Fresno,” Sloan said. “We are optimistic we will reach an agreement that keeps baseball in Fresno for our residents to enjoy.”
Sloan did not say how long the extension will last. If Fresno does not come to an agreement, the city will lose its affiliation with MLB altogether.
In the notice last week, MLB Deputy Commissioner Dan Halem questioned the city’s reluctance to take on a Low A affiliate since that is the only option.
“We do not understand why Grizzlies ownership and the City of Fresno would choose to forgo any affiliation with a Major League club if they cannot have a Triple-A affiliation,” Halem wrote in a letter to the city. “A Single-A affiliation is a viable, fan-friendly alternative for the City. Single-A affiliates can and do thrive.”
Halem noted that the Dayton Dragons – a Single-A affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds located in Dayton, Ohio – averages a higher attendance than most teams in the Pacific Coast League, the Triple-A league the Grizzlies have played in since 1998.
Last year, the Grizzlies had an average attendance of 5,759, ranking the team in the bottom half of the PCL, while Dayton averaged 7,900 people per game.
“There are numerous other cities in the United States that would be thrilled to have a Single-A affiliate in their communities,” Halem wrote. “The economics of a Single-A affiliation may also be more favorable for ownership, given that Single-A teams are rarely required to to fly to play opposing teams.”
MLB had been prepared to offer Fresno a Single-A affiliation with the Colorado Rockies, and Halem said MLB will “gladly reconsider” the offer if the City of Fresno accepts the affiliation and will not attempt to take any legal action, which Halem said would be “baseless.”
The restructuring of MiLB comes in what MLB says is an effort to modernize the player development system and better align teams geographically.
Fresno City Council is scheduled to discuss the situation in a closed session Thursday.