MLB Solves Royals Short-Season Woes

By Will Kimmey
September 18, 2003

The Royals’ two teams in the Rookie-level Arizona League will mercifully be just a one-year arrangement.

The commissioner’s office kept its promise to deliver a non-complex short-season club to the Royals a year after they lost out in the affiliation shuffle. Idaho Falls of the Rookie-level Pioneer League signed a one-year player-development contract with the Royals for 2004, ending its nine-year association with the Padres.

It will allow the Royals to end the temporary situation of having two teams in the Arizona League. They couldn’t reach an agreement with another short-season club after their eight-year contract with Spokane of the Northwest League expired in 2002.

“The situation worked out really well for us,” Royals farm director Muzzy Jackson said. “You like to have a situation where the kids can play in a real minor league environment–in front of a crowd–instead of in a complex league.”

The arrangement also should work out well for Idaho Falls and the Padres, who likely will return to fielding a team in the AZL.

“We have been unsatisfied with the records of the teams there, and San Diego was aware of that,” Idaho Falls public-relations director Nathan Peck said. “Our player-development contract was running through 2005. Kansas City had asked for Major League Baseball’s assistance in finding a new affiliate so it wouldn’t have to have two teams in the Arizona League, and San Diego agreed to do it.

“We talked with San Diego about it; we had a good relationship with San Diego. They were talking with Kansas City, and San Diego called us. They spoke with our general manager and told us the opportunity had come up and that it might be good for us to do it.”

Idaho Falls hasn’t come close to posting a winning record since winning the Pioneer League title in 2000, the last year the Padres used the club as their top short-season team. In 2001, the Padres dropped out of the Arizona League and began an affiliation with short-season Eugene of the Northwest League. The younger players began going to Idaho Falls, where they posted a 77-150 record over the last three seasons, never winning more than 32 games.

The Royals faced the opposite situation this season in the AZL. They had to send their more advanced young prospects and experienced college players to a complex league. Led by first-round picks Chris Lubanski and Mitch Maier, the Royals’ more advanced AZL team went 31-18, winning the first-half title and the postseason championship.

“Last year we drafted more college seniors,” Jackson said, “and this fits the direction we went then and the way we’re going to go in the future. It’s a good fit for us to be able to send our college players up there.”

As part of the new affiliation, Idaho Falls will change its nickname, which has been the name of the team’s major league affiliate almost exclusively since 1946. The franchise wants to establish its own name and will take suggestions from fans with hopes of announcing the results in October. With the new name and affiliation, Idaho Falls officials are looking forward to a fresh start in 2004.

“We had a very amicable relationship with the Padres,” Peck said. “We really appreciate San Diego letting us out of our contract and letting Kansas City pick up the other year. We’re definitely looking forward to new, more competitive players.”