Kansas City Royals director of minor league operations Scott Sharp and assistant general manager J.J. Picollo seemed like the kind of guys with whom Kane County Cougars GM Jeff Sedivy would like to kick back and enjoy a ballgame.
“We spent three hours with them last week, we sat at the ballpark and talked for a while, and it was probably the most easy and fluid three hours I’ve ever spent with someone I didn’t know,” Sedivy said. “You got a sense of comfort for those guys as far as how they operate and what is yet to come.”
What’s to come are plenty of ballgames in which the Cougars and Royals will be intertwined. On Tuesday, the Cougars announced that they are switching Major League Baseball affiliates from the Oakland Athletics to the Royals, effective the 2011 season.
The Royals become the fourth major league franchise the Cougars have partnered with since their inception in 1991. The Cougars were affiliated with Oakland from 2003-2010, and previously groomed ballplayers for Baltimore (1991-92) and Florida (1993-2002).
The Cougars signed a two-year player-development contract with Kansas City, an agreement that took shape during a productive meeting on Friday, Sedivy said. Like Oakland, Kansas City is a small-market team at the major league level, meaning the Royals put a clear emphasis on cultivating talent through the minor league system. That appeals to Sedivy.
“I think there’s no doubt any time you’ve got an organization that puts a premium on player development, it’s attractive to be with,” Sedivy said. “Every draft is important, every player they draft is important, and hopefully you’ll benefit through that relationship.”
Sedivy contends remaining with Oakland was a viable option, though the Cougars have been aggressively taking stock of alternatives for months. Sedivy cited Oakland’s rapid rate of player progression through its system – making for little roster continuity – as well as the difficulty Cougars fans had following former players in the majors because of the time-zone difference as factors contributing to the desire to look elsewhere.
Regarding Oakland’s promotion philosophy, Sedivy used the example of 2010 Midwest League All-Star pitcher Ian Krol, a Naperville product who was promoted to Stockton late in the season with the Cougars fighting for a playoff berth. That call-up “did not sit well,” Sedivy acknowledged.
“There’ll always be movement, don’t get me wrong, but there will probably be less movement and more of a developmental philosophy that they want their players to develop in front of a fan base with consistently good crowds, packed houses ... and that lends itself to our environment,” Sedivy said.
Sharp could not be reached for comment, but in a statement said, “Kane County has a long history of community and fan support, and the Royals are excited for our young players to be part of that history.”
The Royals previously used the Burlington Bees as their Midwest League affiliate. The Bees could end up linking with Oakland, basically swapping relationships with the Cougars.
Naturally, the Cougars are interested in the Chicago franchises as well as the St. Louis Cardinals, but only St. Louis was a realistic option this cycle, and the Cardinals opted to remain affiliated with Quad Cities.
While the Cougars’ administrative staff will not be affected by the move, the baseball staff, including manager Aaron Nieckula, will move on. Sedivy said he will miss the staff, as well as several members of Oakland’s player personnel and scouting department.
“You can’t help but have some feelings of remorse when you make the move,” Sedivy said. “It’s never easy to make a move like this but we felt like it was in the best interest of our fan base to do that.”
Sedivy said he does not expect the switch to translate into major marketing changes such as new logos or color schemes.
“I don’t see anything changing but there’s definitely going to be a [Royals] presence,” Sedivy said. “People are going to know Kansas City is our affiliate within the ballpark. Kansas City made it very apparent that’s what they want – they want everyone in the park to know the Kansas City Royals are here, and they’re very excited about the opportunity. And so are we.”