First of all, if you haven’t read it, check this story out by the Chronicle’s Susan Slusser.

Bottom line, sources with both the A’s and the River Cats have told the Chronicle that the River Cats are up for changing affiliations, and going to the Giants.

Let’s start by saying what this isn’t: this isn’t the Giants trying to give the A’s a little “Screw You” by taking their Triple-A affiliate.  Teams aren’t allowed to talk with other affiliates by major league rules; doing so would be tampering.  And the Giants don’t want to get into any trouble with the league while waiting (and waiting) for that blue ribbon commission to make a decision.  That, and add in that Slusser specifically says the sources are with the River Cats and Athletics, and toss out that idea.

Personally, I wouldn’t put much stock in this…except that, if this change were to happen, maybe this is the year.

The River Cats team has played in Sacramento since 2000 (previous to that, they were the Vancouver Canadiens).  The franchise has been affiliated with the Athletics since 1999, though it was originally an Athletic affiliate when the franchise started in 1978.

The River Cats and the A’s have been a successful team.  Raley Field in West Sacramento is one of the best stadiums in the minors, and Sacramento provides the River Cats with consistently some of the highest attendance figures.  Forbes ranked the River Cats as the most valuable franchise in the minors.

By comparison, the current Giants affiliate is the Fresno Grizzlies.  The Giants have been affiliated with the Grizzlies since they moved to Fresno in 1998.  (Before that, they were the Tucson Toros).  The Grizzlies play in Chukchansi Park, which is also a very nice stadium just outside of downtown Fresno…which isn’t a great downtown.  Fresno provides a solid attendance for the Grizzlies, and their average attendance is usually middle-of-the-pack.  Forbes ranked the Grizzlies as the 11th most valuable franchise in the minors, not bad when that is out of 240 teams.

The Giants and Grizzlies have been a successful partnership, though they have had rumors of separations in the past.  In those cases, it was always about the Grizzlies’ interest in others, never another team specifically seeking the Giants.  But particularly since the mid-2000’s, the Grizzlies and Giants have been serious partners.  In 2008, the Grizzlies rebranded themselves in the Giants’ black and orange, and the Giants have tied the Grizzlies in on major promotions.  The World Series trophies make promotional trips down there (as they do to all Giants’ affiliates), and the Grizzlies do some of the same promotional items (such as recently giving away the 1952 World Series Ring Replicas that were an AT&T Park giveaway in April).

The location has been a plus as well.  Having Fresno being so close makes it an easy trip for rehabbing veterans, roving coaches and call ups to get to and from the two cities.  Of course, Sacramento is the one Triple-A team closer to the Bay Area than Fresno, and the A’s have benefitted from a similar geographic relationship.

The Giants have invested a lot in their relationship with the Grizzlies.  Would saving a couple of hours in bus time and being associated with a better-valued franchise be worth dumping that investment?

Well…all is not rosy in Fresno.  The Grizzlies as a team are losing money.  It was reported in April that the team owes $1.5 million in rent payments to the city, and lost $1.3 million.  The ownership group has been listening to offers to sell the team.  Forbes Magazine has ranked the team as the 11th most valuable in the minors, but that doesn’t help cash-flow in the short term.

The Grizzlies aren’t far from profitability.  The team estimates they need to increase attendance by an average of 1,000 per game to reach that level.  That’s not impossible in a city with just over half a million people.  But if they can’t, it’s not impossible that they could be sold, and possibly even moved, despite having a sweet stadium deal and solid roots.

One of the big things that can cause affiliation changes?  New owners and new locations.

That threat of new ownership might be enough to make the Giants a little shy about sticking around, but there is always another possibility: the Giants might just do what they did in San Jose: buy a controlling interest in the team.  And then, all questions would be rendered moot.

Which brings us back to Sacramento, and the weird timing of this.  This very well could just be a bargaining ploy by River Cats CEO Susan Savage.  As one of the Minor Leagues crown jewels, they might be trying to get the best they can get out of any deal…but may have no intention of leaving the A’s…yet.

But if she’s going to net the Giants, she’s going to need to cast quite a net.

At the very least, though, this should make the twitter feud between the Grizzlies and the River Cats even more interesting.