- The Washington Times - Friday, March 16, 2012

TAMPA, Fla. — The Washington Nationals announced Friday that they’ve extended their contracts with four of their minor league affiliates, agreeing to stay with Triple-A Syracuse, Double-A Harrisburg, Single-A Potomac and short-season Single-A Auburn through the 2014 season.

Triple-A Syracuse has been the Nationals’ top affiliate since 2009 and Double-A Harrisburg has been with the organization since it was the Montreal Expos in 1991. Potomac has been with the Nationals since 2005. Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo was pleased to make the extension announcement and have the issue settled for the next three seasons.

“We could not be more pleased to make this commitment,” Rizzo said in a statement. “To make this announcement so early in the season speaks to how much we value our relationships and environments cultivated by the good people in Syracuse, Harrisburg, Potomac and Auburn.”

The Nationals, however, did not announce an extension with Single-A Hagerstown, which is exploring a move. On Tuesday, the Winchester, Va., city council voted down a proposal to transfer 7.9 acres of park land to an economic development agency that would then use it for a proposed stadium in the hopes of luring the Hagerstown Suns to town, according to a report in the Herald-Mail.

The council cited concerns about economic risks and alcohol, and one council member had said previously that if they did not transfer the land, it would likely end the plan to relocate the Suns to Winchester.

The Nationals sent a letter to the Hagerstown Suns this past offseason detailing improvements they’d like to see made to the field and the facilities if they were to re-up with them. Their current deal expires at the end of this season.

The Nationals and Hagerstown owner Bruce Quinn have a good working relationship, and one Nationals official said recently that they send similar letters to their affiliates each offseason. While no extension has been agreed upon with the Suns, the Nationals are continuing to monitor the stadium issue.

For now, the team and the town are working on extending the lease for the Suns’ Municipal Stadium as they work toward perhaps building a new park in Hagerstown, instead.

“We are still very optimistic that the Suns will either be playing in a new Winchester stadium for the 2013 season or sign a lease extension with the city of Hagerstown, thus giving the city, county and state time to firm up the proposed downtown stadium project for the 2015 season,” Quinn said in a statement after the proposal for use of park land in Winchester was shot down.

“In both scenarios, the Suns have agreed to a base rent and/or revenue share split that will pay down the largest portion of the debt service needed to fund the building of a new stadium.”

The announcement of an extension with Single-A Potomac comes after a tumultuous 2011 season with the high-A affiliate.

After battling with the P-Nats last year over what the Nationals felt were dangerous field conditions and a park that simply could not handle rain, Pfitzner Stadium underwent a field renovation this offseason. A new drainage and irrigation system was installed and the “entire diamond was laser graded to MLB standards,” according to a release from the Potomac Nationals.

The field then was sodded and overseeded and a new pitchers mound and home-plate area were constructed, leading, hopefully, to a more conducive playing surface. The team also hired a full-time groundskeeper.

“The field had not been rebuilt since ballpark construction in 1984 and initially when it was built, it was not in compliance with major league requirements,” said Potomac owner Art Silber. “What we have now is state of the art, which will provide a superior playing surface but more importantly one that will minimize player injury.”

The Nationals did not send either Stephen Strasburg or Bryce Harper to Single-A Potomac during their time in the minor leagues. Strasburg starteed at Double-A Harrisburg while Harper skipped from Single-A Hagerstown up to Harrisburg. Strasburg did, however, make one rehab start in Potomac last year on his path back from Tommy John surgery.

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