- The Washington Times - Friday, September 19, 2008

It appears the Washington Nationals are drawing closer to finding a new home for their Class AAA affiliate in Syracuse, N.Y.

On the first day of negotiations between major league teams and potential minor league affiliates, Nationals executives were in Syracuse to discuss the possibility of putting their Class AAA franchise there for the next two seasons. General manager Jim Bowden said discussions would continue with the Chiefs on Friday.

Bowden and Nationals farm director Bobby Williams called the Chiefs’ front office at 12:01 a.m. on Thursday and expressed interest in striking a deal with Syracuse.

Then Bowden, Williams, principal owner Mark Lerner and team president Stan Kasten flew by private jet to Syracuse on Thursday afternoon to tour the team’s facilities and meet with the Chiefs’ executives.

“We’re very, very impressed with the people [and] very, very impressed with the stadium,” Bowden said. “I think it could be a tremendous place for our Triple-A club.”

The biggest selling point for Bowden was Alliance Bank Stadium, where the team renovated the field before this season. The 11-year-old stadium seats just more than 11,000 fans and boasts two indoor batting cages, something Bowden highlighted when saying it would be “a tremendous upgrade for us without any question.”

If the Nationals’ top minor leaguers land in upstate New York, it would end a process that started last month when the Columbus Clippers (Washington’s Class AAA affiliate for the last two seasons) informed the team they planned to seek a new major league affiliation. It was well understood at the time the Clippers were hoping to land with the Cleveland Indians.

Syracuse, which was the Class AAA affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays for the last 31 years, had made overtures to the New York Mets. But the Mets were expected to sign with Buffalo, the Indians’ old affiliate.

The Syracuse Post-Standard reported the Chiefs talked to the Florida Marlins on Thursday, but a team spokesman told the newspaper there were no meetings scheduled with the Marlins.

Bowden would not comment on whether the Nationals are in discussions with any other potential affiliates.

He restated his belief that two-year deals with minor league teams make the most sense, giving each side more opportunities to re-evaluate the relationship and see whether there would be a better fit.

“The relationship is so important all the time,” Bowden said. “If you have a great relationship and it’s working out, you’ll just keep renewing it.”

The Nationals also announced Thursday they had extended contracts with short-season Vermont and Class A Hagerstown. Both deals run for two seasons.

Winter work

Manager Manny Acta said Thursday several Nationals players are committed to playing winter ball this year - Emilio Bonifacio, Anderson Hernandez, Ronnie Belliard and Jesus Flores.

He said outfielder Elijah Dukes is discussing the possibility of winter ball with Bowden and Dukes’ agent, Scott Pucino.

“Don’t forget, he’s coming back from [three right leg injuries], so we’ve got to be careful there,” Acta said. “At the end, that decision is going to be made by Jim and Dukes and his agent.”

Bowden at ESPN Zone

Bowden and assistant general manager Mike Rizzo will hold a question-and-answer session about the state of the team with fans at ESPN Zone from noon to 1 p.m. on Friday.

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