Astros seek new home for Triple-A affiliate

HOUSTON -- The Astros continue their search for a new home for their Triple-A affiliate after it was announced Wednesday the Dodgers were buying a stake in the Oklahoma City RedHawks, which had been the Astros' Triple-A club the previous four years.

The move had been expected for the last few weeks, and the Astros have been working behind the scenes to find a new landing spot for their Triple-A operation. There have been six Pacific Coast League openings this year, including Albuquerque, where the Rockies will replace the Dodgers after 22 seasons in Colorado Springs.

That leaves openings in Colorado Springs, Fresno, Calif., Nashville and Sacramento. The San Francisco Chronicle reported earlier this week that Sacramento has filed to end its long-time affiliation with the A's, who have been eyeing Nashville and a brand-new stadium which opens next year. Sacramento is said to be targeting a partnership with the Giants, who currently have Triple-A operations in Fresno.

If the A's wind up in Nashville, that would leave the Brewers also searching for a new Triple-A home. The most likely landing spots for the Astros' Triple-A club appears to be Colorado Springs or Fresno.

"We're following the rules that are set forth with Major League and Minor League Baseball and we're undertaking this process and looking for the very best situation for the Houston Astros," Astros president of business operations Reid Ryan said.

Colorado Springs isn't ideal for several reasons, but the Astros might not have much choice. Like Class A Advanced Lancaster, the ball flies in Colorado Springs, where Rockies' Triple- A pitchers posted a team ERA of 5.43, the third-worst in the PCL. Security Service Field is 6,300 feet above sea level, the highest elevation of any park in North America.

What's more, games early in the season are typically played in cold weather and there are frequent rain delays during the season. That being said, the Sky Sox drew a team-record 350,374 fans in 70 dates this season.

In a few years, the Astros may ultimately wind up back in Round Rock, which they left after the 2010 season when Nolan Ryan joined the Rangers ownership group. But the Rangers and Express, who are owned by the Ryan family and Houston businessman Don Sanders, have a player development contract with Texas that runs through 2018.

The process of clubs relocating their Minor League affiliates moves quickly and can be used by the Major League clubs as a bargaining tool to improve the Minor League currently facilities.

Major League clubs and Minor League teams had about a week after the end of the Minor League season to file an intention to find a new partnership. Once that period is over, Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball have a four-day period in which they exchange information with each other about which teams filed.

When that information is known, there is roughly a two-week window in which the clubs that are seeking new affiliates can negotiate player development contracts. That period began Tuesday.

Tony DeFrancesco, who managed the Oklahoma City the last four years, said he would like to see the Astros land in one of the PCL's two West Coast clubs for travel purposes.

"There's a lot of scuttlebutt going around right now," said DeFrancesco, who managed Sacramento for seven seasons (2003-10). "[Going back to Sacramento] would be incredible, and I hope that does happen. I know the Giants might be moving there, though."

Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.