All signs suggest that the Round Rock Express could be switching from one Texas baseball franchise to another. According to both minor and major league baseball sources cited by the Austin American-Statesman, there is talk that the Express will switch from its current affiliation as a farm team for the Texas Rangers back to division rivals, the Houston Astros, with whom the Express were affiliated with from 2005 to 2010.
The driving force behind the switch? Family ties.
The Express are owned by Ryan-Sanders Baseball, which includes baseball great Nolan Ryan, his son Reid Ryan, and Houston businessman Don Sanders. (You’d be correct to assume that Sanders is a big Astros fan.) When Reid, former CEO of the Express, became president of the Astros in May 2013, his brother Reese assumed the role of CEO of the minor league team. Soon after, Nolan resigned as CEO of the Rangers, becoming an executive advisor for Astros owner Jim Crane in February 2014.
These moves undoubtedly strengthened the Ryan family's ties to the Astros, putting pressure on Express CEO Reese.
The partnership between the Rangers and Express has proven to be mutually beneficial, with the Express recently ranked by Forbes as the second most valuable franchise in minor league baseball. The Rangers made back-to-back World Series appearances in 2010-2011, and have access to a booming fan-base in Central Texas, with deep divisions in loyalty between Arlington and Houston.
But, the American-Statesman suggests that the split between the Rangers and the Express could be amicable and come as soon as this fall. While the Express have a player development deal with the Rangers through 2018, the Rangers have shown interest in reconnecting with the Triple-A Oklahoma City RedHawks, whom they had ties with from 1983 until 2010. The Astros currently have a deal with the RedHawks, which expires in September 2014.
Amicable or not, Reese has a tough decision on his hands. "It’s no secret I’ve been put in an awkward situation. Two of my major shareholders [Nolan and Reid Ryan] work for the Astros and would love to see the Express switch," the Express CEO tells the American-Statesman. "I don’t know if I can make that happen at this point. In the meantime, we’re going to be the best partner we can be with the Rangers. They have done right by us."
The ball is still in the Rangers’ court for now. But Texas baseball fans will soon see if Reese Ryan proves that blood is thicker than water.