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Fresno fights Grizzlies demotion

Fresno Grizzlies PrimaryThe city of Fresno is fighting a demotion of the Fresno Grizzlies (Class AAA; Pacific Coast League) to the California League, and city officials say they’ve received time from Major League Baseball to find a solution.

As part of MLB’s reorganization of Minor League Baseball, MLB early on identified Fresno as a candidate to move down to the California League. (We’ve listed this as a possibility on our affiliates page since we started updating for 2020.) After the team received official notification last Wednesday, the Fresno City Council has met twice in closed session to map out a strategy to keep Triple-A baseball in Fresno, including a meeting tonight. The city didn’t issue many details about the meeting, save a statement from City Attorney Doug Sloan indicating MLB had granted Fresno additional time to explore a solution: “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 in his statement. “We are optimistic we will reach an agreement that keeps baseball in Fresno for our residents to enjoy.”

What this means is unclear, and with MLB apparently ready to release the final MiLB lineup on Dec. 1 or Dec. 2, there’s obviously not a lot of time to work out an agreement. It’s not exactly clear what leverage the Grizzlies and the city have. Technically, there’s no contract between the Grizzlies and Major League Baseball, and the notification from MLB regarding a move to the Cal League was not an invitation to negotiate an existing agreement: it was the offer of an MLB license in the California League to the Grizzlies ownership.

The move to the Cal League comes at the end of a process where no MLB team expressed interest in playing in Fresno on the Triple-A level; the previous parent, the Washington Nationals, did not want to keep a top affiliate on the other side of the country and instead opted to affiliate with the Rochester Red Wings (Class AAA; International League), though that apparently came before and after some drama involving the Richmond Flying Squirrels (Class AA; Eastern League) and the Nashville Sounds (Class AAA; Pacific Coast League). With no other team committing to Fresno and no team similarly committing to the Lancaster JetHawks (Low A; California League), it was an easy decision in the MiLB reorg to move the Grizzlies to the Cal League, with the Colorado Rockies potentially as a parent.

What are the alternatives for Fresno? Realistically, none. Fresno could turn down MLB’s offer and go dark for 2021 and work to find a new parent down the line, but paying the Chukchansi Park lease would be expensive and there’s a huge chance nothing would be different in 2022. And there would be nothing to stop the Rockies or another MLB team to make a run at the ballpark lease on 2022. There would also be some financial pluses to moving down the Cal League: even with reduced crowds the Grizzlies could easily be the biggest draw in the circuit, and with travel costs in the Pacific Coast League rising in 2021, the Cal League would be a cheaper operating environment. It may be a matter of pride for Fresno officials to host Triple-A ball, but the things that have made the Grizzlies a success–the outstanding promotions, the inspired community events like Taco Truck Throwdown–would work just as well in the Cal League.

Here’s the most up-to-date information about the current affiliation status.

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