M's staying in Tacoma, Everett, and Pulaski

The Mariners re-upped with three cities last week, meaning that M's farmhands will be playing in Tacoma, Everett, and Pulaski at least through 2010. But agreements with Wisconsin and High Desert have lapsed, and it appears the Timber Rattlers are close to becoming affiliated with the Brewers. Read on for all the details.

The Mariners have signed agreements with the Tacoma Rainiers, Everett AquaSox, and Pulaski Mariners, keeping all three teams within the organization through 2010. However, affiliation agreements with the High Desert Mavericks and Wisconsin Timber Rattlers were allowed to expire, and the Mariners' future with those teams is in question. The M's had previously extended their agreement with the West Tenn Diamond Jaxx through 2010.

The Rainiers have been the AAA affiliate of the Mariners since 1995, the same year the Everett franchise started its affiliation with the M's. The proximity of both cities to Seattle is a huge advantage, as it's easy for players to be moved up and down in the organization and/or take on rehab assignments.

2008 was the first season that the Mariners fielded a rookie league team in Pulaski. The city had previously hosted a Blue Jays affiliate, but didn't have a team in 2007 after that deal expired. The P-Mariners won their division this season and advanced to the Appalachian League's championship series. They will get an opportunity to defend the division title with the two-year extension.

Things are a lot more cloudy, though, for the Mariners at the full-season A level. It's been widely rumored (though never publicly acknowledged) that the Mariners were not happy with the difficult conditions presented for pitchers in High Desert. Constant windy conditions along with high elevation made it nearly impossible for Mavs pitchers to have any consistent success. And the skewed numbers also made it hard to evaluate offensive numbers and judge whether a player was truly ready for a promotion to AA. In addition, there was some doubt that there would even be a team in High Desert next season, as MLB reportedly was considering moving two California League franchises to the Carolina League. But a recent article in the Victorville Daily Press says that the Mavs are in fact going to be staying for at least one more year. The M's are rumored to have interest in moving to the Florida State League but have to wait and see how things shake down with other contracts there before approaching any teams.

Also unclear is the status of the affiliation with the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, which goes back all the way to 1993. It is rumored that the Rattlers allowed the agreement to expire because they are interested in becoming linked with the Milwaukee Brewers. In fact, a published report in the Charleston (WV) Gazette today suggests that the Brewers, who had been affiliated with the South Atlantic League's West Virginia Power for the last three seasons, are a near lock to be in Wisconsin next season.

West Virginia GM Andy Milovich is quoted in the story:

"The speculation is the Brewers are bound for Appleton, which leaves us three options,'' said Power general manager Andy Milovich. "The speculation is that's been a done deal for a long time. We'll see.

"With the Brewers you can extend at any time. We could have done that weeks ago, months ago, today. Either their minds are made up or they haven't gotten around to the point where they're ready to talk."

The Mariners are listed as a potential affiliate for the Power, along with the Pirates and Rangers. Today (the 16th) is the day that MLB and minor-league clubs can begin negotiating a PDC (player development contract) that can last either one or two seasons. Minor league teams that do not have deals signed by September 30th will be assigned to a big-league club by MLB.

A Q&A posted in the Appleton Post-Crescent with Rattlers President Rob Zerjav did little to quash speculation that the association with the Mariners is likely to end. While Zerjav said he could not comment on any negotiations or even admit the Rattlers interest in the Brewers. But he did seem to indicate that he's not very happy with the players provided by the Mariners: "We've [the Rattlers and Mariners] talked about a lot of things. It's something I don't think I need to necessarily point out to them. I have mentioned it has been frustrating, especially from a fans' standpoint. We've had fans comment that it's very difficult to see the team play the way it has. I think the Mariners know how we feel when it comes to the team."

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