The Orioles era in Bluefield came to a close after 43 years last week when Baltimore decided to trim its number of affiliates down to six and exit the Appalachian League.
It didn't take long for a new era to begin.
The Blue Jays announced today that they have agreed on a four-year management agreement with Bluefield, a move that adds a seventh affiliate to an organization that has rededicated its focus on player development and scouting under new general manager Alex Anthopoulos.
"This is another example of our commitment to scouting and development as the driving force to move our organization forward," vice president of baseball operations Tony LaCava said. "The first step was to invest in our scouting staff, then allocating resources to the first year player draft and amateur free agents. Next year we will take another step forward by expanding to seven minor league affiliates. Bluefield is a tremendous partner for us and presents a great opportunity for our young men to develop."
Toronto joins the Appalachian League for the first time since the 2006 season, when the club pulled out of Pulaski shortly before the Winter Meetings under former general J.P. Ricciardi. The move came too late in the year for the league to find a replacement and forced it to play a nine-team schedule in 2007 before the Mariners brought baseball back to Pulaski in 2008.
Toronto had expressed interest about returning to the Appalachian league to league president Lee Landers during last year's Winter Meetings. When Landers told Blue Jays farm director Charlie Wilson about Baltimore's decision in late August, both Wilson and minor league pitching coordinator Doug Davis were in Bluefield checking out the field the next day.
"Like anything else, it's nice to be wanted," Landers said. "With Toronto, I didn't have to do a selling job. They know all about the Appalachian League. The front office staff that is there now isn't the reason they left Pulaski in (2006). They have made an aggressive dedication to their scouting and player-development staff and they felt coming to Bluefield is in the team's best interest."
Wilson and Davis were back in town this morning for a press conference, along with pitching instructor (and former Cy Young Award winner) Pat Hentgen. The team announced that Dennis Holmberg will manage the team in 2011 after spending nine season with short-season Auburn (New York-Penn League).
The Blue Jays and Bluefield still need to formalize the agreement, Landers said. Appalachian League teams do not sign player-development contracts like most minor league circuits, but instead are operated by their major league affiliate.