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Empty nest for Braves?

MYRTLE BEACH -- The Myrtle Beach Pelicans have gone into an offseason with some parental uncertainty for the first time in the franchise’s 12 seasons.

Myrtle Beach, which completed the 2010 season Monday, has been the Advanced Class A minor league affiliate of the Atlanta Braves since the Pelicans’ inaugural season in 1999.

But its most recent two-year player development contract extension with the Braves expires on Sept. 30 and hasn’t been renewed.

A possible change in major league parent clubs has been rumored since Pelicans principal owner Chuck Greenberg headed an investor group that outbid Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban at an auction on Aug. 5 to take over ownership of the Texas Rangers.

There are indications the speculation has some merit.

The Pelicans haven’t extended their agreement with the Braves, and the Rangers haven’t re-signed with their 2010 Advanced Class-A affiliate in Bakersfield, Calif., either.

“We congratulated Chuck on becoming owner of the Rangers,” said Kurt Kemp, Braves Director of Player Development. “They’ve spoken with us throughout this whole process and we’ll see where it takes us.

“There’s no comment to make on that because there’s no status change [with the Pelicans] as of right now.”

Pelicans first-year general manager Scott Brown said the period between the end of the season and Sept. 11 is generally when major and minor league clubs inform their respective commissioner’s offices that they are exploring the open market for teams, and the two leagues put together lists of availability. “Nothing has transpired yet,” Brown said.

Most player development contracts are two or four years, and teams try to have contracts finalized by Oct. 1. “Every team needs to have a stable situation by the end of this month,” said Rick Janac, executive vice president of the Greenberg Sports Group, which operates the Pelicans.

Janac referred all questions regarding prospective parent clubs for the Pelicans to Greenberg, who also sits on the Minor League Baseball Board of Trustees. Greenberg couldn’t be reached for comment.

The Rangers announced on Aug. 30 that they extended the player development contracts with three minor league affiliates. Triple-A Oklahoma City and Bakersfield were not included in the announcements.

Since Rangers president Nolan Ryan is part of Greenberg’s ownership group and is majority owner of the Triple-A Round Rock Express near Austin, Texas, the Rangers are expected to bring Round Rock into the fold. The Express have already announced they were ending their 11-year partnership with the Houston Astros.

Rangers assistant general manager Thad Levine has acknowledged the club is looking at other high-A options.

“The California League is a challenging place to pitch,” Levine told “We’ve put an emphasis on developing pitchers and places in the Cal League are hitter friendly.”

Particularly Sam Lynn Ballpark, the home of the Bakersfield Blaze, which has perhaps the shallowest center field in professional baseball at 354 feet. The park was also built backwards, with the sun setting in hitters’ eyes, and the Blaze, who went 67-73 this season, attracted only a paltry and California League-worst 932 spectators per game. The Pelicans drew 3,282 per game.

The 12-season agreement between the Braves and Pelicans has been successful for both organizations, according to team executives.

“The relationship with the Braves has been outstanding,” Janac said. “It’s been a winning situation I think for both sides.”

The affiliation with the nearby Braves has allowed the Pelicans to boast the occasional major leaguer on a minor league rehab assignment, including Tom Glavine, Tim Hudson and Brian McCann in recent years, and reliever Scott Proctor this season.

The Braves’ Triple-A team moving to Gwinnett (Ga.) a couple years ago gave the Pelicans’ more competition for rehabbing players, depending on which team is at home during the assigned rehab period. “It’s always fun getting those guys in here,” Brown said. “It kind of lifts everybody up a little bit, fans and players alike.”

Kemp said the negotiation between major and minor league clubs is deemed a confidential process by Major League Baseball, but he said the Braves were happy with their Myrtle Beach affiliation.

“We’ve had a great relationship with the community there and the ownership people there, and have nothing but great things to say about the Myrtle Beach people,” Kemp said. “There are some things that are out of our control, so we’ll see what happens with that whole situation.”

Contact ALAN BLONDIN at 843-626-0284.

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