Shuffling Officially Starts

Fixing the major league team is going to take more time, but new Royals general manager Dayton Moore has wasted no time giving the organization’s farm system a makeover.

First came the addition of an affiliate in the Rookie-level Appalachian League. Now more significantly, the Royals will be returning their high Class A affiliation to Wilmington in the Carolina League.

The Blue Rocks had been a Royals affiliate since joining the Carolina League in 1993, but they decided to look around after the 2004 season and signed a two-year deal with the Red Sox. In welcoming back the Royals, team president Matt Minker essentially admitted making a mistake.

“Part of my job is to listen to the fans and our
corporate community,” Minker said. “Blue
Rocks fans are very knowledgeable and pay attention to performance and
roster moves. I was interested over the last three weeks of the season
as fans approached me suggesting we bring back the Royals.”

As a Royals affiliate, Wilmington had the best
winning percentage (.564) among all full-season minor league clubs, according to the Blue Rocks. Also during that 12-year span, the Blue Rocks made
the Carolina League playoffs 10 times and won four
titles, with the last coming in 1999.

As a Red Sox affiliate, the Blue Rocks had the worst record in the Carolina League (60-80) in 2005. They won a first-half division title this season and made the playoffs, but finished below .500 overall (67-71).

“We are very excited to be reunited with Wilmington,” Moore said. “This is a very important step in realigning our minor league organization. We are committed to providing our players with a great atmosphere to play and develop.”

The Royals had their high Class A affiliate in High Desert for the past two years, which presented two problems. One is High Desert’s extremely hitter-friendly ballpark, but the other is the team’s distance from any other Royals affiliate.

Minker said Moore, Royals owner David Glass, assistant GM Dean Taylor and farm director J.J. Picollo all visited Wilmington on Monday to talk about returning. “It is great to be wanted,” Minker said. “We met for over four hours, exchanging
philosophies and making sure we were all on the same page.”

Triple-A Picture Clearing

Meanwhile in Triple-A, major and minor league teams were still talking, with no formal agreements announced but several likely on the horizon. With the Phillies leaving Scranton/Wilkes-Barre for Ottawa, where they’ll play a year before moving to Allentown, Pa., the available major league teams are the Mets, Nationals, Orioles and Yankees. They’re jockeying for spots in Columbus, New Orleans, Norfolk and Scranton.

The Columbus Dispatch was reporting that the board of directors for the Columbus Clippers was meeting on Wednesday afternoon to approve a two-year player-development contract with the Nationals. The most important thing to the Clippers seemed to be a two-year agreement because the team wants to go after the Reds or Indians affiliation in 2008, after losing the 28-year relationship with the Yankees.

That means the Orioles are almost certain to end up in Norfolk, where the Tides ended an affiliation with the Mets that stretched back to 1969. Tides owner Ken Young is also the leader of an ownership group that purchased a group of three Orioles affiliates in Maryland (Bowie, Frederick and Delmarva) from Comcast over the summer.

“I’d say it’s an 88 percent chance we end up
with the Orioles and about a 12 percent chance we go back with the New
York Mets,” Tides general manager Dave Rosenfield told The Virginian-Pilot.

That raises the stakes in the race for Scranton even more, with the Mets and Yankees both doggedly pursuing the Red Barons. But Rosenfeld said he thinks the Yankees are the solid front-runner because the team has not even contacted the Tides.

That would leave the Mets in New Orleans, which is considered the least attractive option in this situation even though it probably has the best facilities available. But in spite of the Zephyrs’ efforts to boost the area, New Orleans continues to struggle in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, and the team also is the least attractive geographically among the four available cities.