KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The fallout from Major League Baseball’s first major structural changes to its minor league system since 1989 began to come into focus Wednesday with the announcement of most big-league affiliations for the 2021 season.
All minor league games were canceled last summer amid the COVID-19 pandemic, setting the stage for significant contraction and reorganization within the MLB player pipeline.
Baseball’s overhaul pared down the number of MLB-affiliated teams to 120, most of which were announced Wednesday.
The Royals have made offers to Omaha and Northwest Arkansas to remain as the club’s Class AAA and Class AA affiliates, but the Class A teams will change and the Rookie Leagues are a relic of the past.
Kansas City has made offers to Quad Cities and Columbia, South Carolina, to host its new Class A affiliates, replacing the Wilmington (Delaware) Blue Rocks and Lexington (Kentucky) Legends.
Wilmington, which had been affiliated with the Royals since 1993, will now serve as a Washington Nationals affiliate.
Lexington had been a Royals’ affiliate since 2013. They were not among the teams announced as an affiliate for any other big-league teams Wednesday.
a statement from our President & CEO.— Lexington Legends (@LexingtonLegend) December 9, 2020
Please share any questions you may have and we will try and answer all of them. pic.twitter.com/4lGN7bCeLc
The Quad Cities River Bandits — who play in the Midwest League, are based in Davenport, Iowa, and will serve as the Royals' Advanced-A affiliate — most recently had been a Class A affiliate of the Houston Astros from 2013-20. The agreement is for "at least five years," according to a release from the River Bandits.
RIVER BANDITS INVITED TO BECOME A KANSAS CITY ROYALS AFFILIATE, see press release below. pic.twitter.com/PXubLjI4qN— Quad Cities River Bandits (@QCRiverBandits) December 9, 2020
The Columbia Fireflies of the South Atlantic League, which were a New York Mets affiliate from 2016-20, announced in a release the initial affiliation term is for 10 years.
“Each of the four invited affiliates will be required to agree to the Player Development Licenses issued by Major League Baseball to officially become an affiliate of the Royals’ organization, a step that will likely be completed at some point after the first of the new year,” the Royals said in a statement.
Omaha, home of the Pacific Coast League’s Storm Chasers, has served as the Royals’ Class AAA affiliate since 1969, while Class AA operations moved from Wichita to Springdale, Arkansas, before the 2008 season.
The Northwest Arkansas Naturals compete in the Texas League.
The Royals previously severed ties with their former Rookie League affiliate in Burlington, North Carolina, when MLB and USA Baseball announced changes to the Appalachian League in September.
The Royals had had an affiliate in Burlington since 2001.
The MLB-led overhaul announced in September also effectively ended the Royals’ affiliation with the Idaho Falls Chukars, which started in 2004.