The River Cats have been one of the most successful teams in minor-league baseball since their first season in the region in 2000, winning four Pacific Coast League titles and 11 division championships and consistently drawing among the league’s biggest crowds.
They have done so entirely as the Triple-A affiliate of the A’s, but that might not preclude the River Cats from considering a change when their contract with the A’s expires after this season.
The San Francisco Chronicle, citing anonymous sources with the A’s and River Cats, reported over the weekend the River Cats may be interested in changing their major-league affiliation after the season. The report said the River Cats are eyeing the cross-bay Giants as a possible alternative.
“Though our player development contract with Oakland does expire after this year, we place the utmost value on our affiliation with the Athletics,” a statement issued by the River Cats on Sunday said. “This year, as in years past, we will perform an internal evaluation after the season has concluded. Our first priority has always been, and will continue to be, providing our fans with the best experience possible at Raley Field. This year is no different.”
The A’s declined to comment on the report.
The A’s and River Cats are in the final year of a four-year affiliate contract. The Chronicle reported A’s officials have approached the River Cats about extending their affiliation beyond this year, but that the River Cats said they wanted to wait and see how the season played out. A River Cats spokesman said he could not confirm whether the teams have discussed extending their agreement.
The Giants’ agreement with the Triple-A Fresno Grizzlies, their top affiliate since 1998, also expires after this season. The Chronicle report indicated the River Cats would be interested in affiliating with the Giants, possibly because of the Giants’ popularity in the region, but not whether the Giants reciprocate that interest.
“It’s not our business what (the River Cats’ and A’s) relationship is with each other,” Giants assistant general manager Bobby Evans said Sunday. “We’ve got a good relationship, a long-standing relationship, with Fresno.”
The River Cats are in their 15th season as the A’s top minor-league affiliate. In that time, the teams’ proximity has benefited both sides. When both teams are home, the A’s can summon a player from Triple A and have him in Oakland in hours. Last year, the A’s called up players from Sacramento 34 times.
Fans in Sacramento have been introduced to players such as Barry Zito, Eric Byrnes, Nick Swisher and, more recently, Sonny Gray before they became successful players in Oakland.
The River Cats missed the playoffs last season for just the third time since moving to Sacramento, but they finished with a winning record for the 13th time in 14 years.