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Signs point to Giants' Double-A team returning to RVA, with Nats' Triple-A team elsewhere

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Richmond Flying Squirrels players and coaches doffed their caps as they saluted fans after the 2019 season ended at The Diamond. It appears the relationship between the San Francisco Giants and Richmond is likely to continue in 2021.

Right of retention is expected to trump geographic sensibility, at least this time. Sources on Wednesday said the San Francisco Giants Double-A team will return to Richmond in 2021, though the Washington Nationals have been very interested in moving their Triple-A team to Richmond.

An announcement is projected to come from Major League Baseball when it can define affiliations through systems of all organizations. The Nationals for Triple-A may now be seriously considering Rochester, which recently lost the Minnesota Twins’ top farm club, expected to move to St. Paul, Minn., a new Triple-A market.

The Giants and Flying Squirrels have been connected since Richmond became a Double-A Eastern League member for the 2010 season. Presuming the Giants’ affiliate returns to Richmond, it’s unclear how long the relationship would continue, contractually speaking. A new working agreement between MLB and the minor leagues begins in 2021, with some uncertain aspects at this point.

When MLB took a much stronger command of the minor leagues following last season, the proposed plan was to realign the minors with greater considerations of geography and cost containment. But the Giants want their Double-A club to remain in Richmond, and MLB apparently backs that position at this time.

A change that united Washington and Richmond would have involved a shift in competitive levels for Richmond and other necessary modifications in leagues resulting from that move.

The Nationals’ Triple-A team has been based in Fresno, Calif., for the past two years. The Washington Nationals began play in 2005 and their Triple-A teams have also called New Orleans, Columbus, and Syracuse home. San Francisco’s Double-A team will be a long way from California no matter where it’s stationed. There is no Double-A league west of the Texas League.

The Giants’ director of player development, Kyle Haines, told The Times-Dispatch last week that the organization wanted San Francisco’s Double-A affiliate to stay in Richmond. Wednesday, Haines said he is unaware of any deals having officially been closed between the Giants and affiliates.

Lou DiBella, the Flying Squirrels president and managing general partner, chose not to comment Wednesday. Under the new structure involving MLB and the minors, Flying Squirrels ownership and management teams have no influence on the selection of their parent club.

As VCU and the Flying Squirrels collaborate on a plan to build a new stadium as part of the VCU Athletics Village along the Hermitage Road corridor, an affiliation with the Nationals would help generate momentum. Additionally, greater interest in the Richmond team would be natural if it were affiliated with the Nationals rather than the Giants.

Richmond was most recently home to Triple-A during 1966-2008, with the Atlanta Braves’ International League team. Richmond (1.3 million population metropolitan area) seems more compatible with Triple-A cities such as Norfolk (1.8), Charlotte (2.6) and Louisville (1.3) than Double-A Eastern League cities such as Reading (421,164), Harrisburg (577,941) and Akron (703,479).

Because of dissatisfaction with The Diamond, the Braves moved their Triple-A team after the 2008 season to Gwinnett County, Ga.

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