The Los Angeles Dodgers on Thursday ended their eight-year Triple-A affiliation with the Las Vegas 51s by agreeing on a two-year player development contract with the Albuquerque Isotopes.
The move leaves the Las Vegas franchise looking for a new major league affiliate, its third after 26 seasons, with potential candidates being the Florida Marlins, Washington Nationals or Toronto Blue Jays.
The Dodgers, meanwhile, will return to Albuquerque, N.M., where they played minor league baseball from 1963 to 2000, the last 29 years as the Pacific Coast League Dukes.
The move gives Los Angeles’ top prospects the chance to play in a state-of-the-art stadium — Isotopes Park, built in 2003 — that features many modern amenities lacking at Cashman Field, which was constructed in 1983.
“Our preference would’ve been to stay with the Dodgers, but they made their decision based upon the facility,” 51s president Don Logan said. “They were adamant about the fact they were unhappy with Cashman Field. They made it clear they weren’t going to extend (the PDC) unless a definite stadium plan was in place.
“They’ve been waiting a long time, and they didn’t want to wait any longer.”
Dodgers director of player development De Jon Watson said it was simply a case of Albuquerque having a better facility.
“We’re just trying to put our players in the best possible place we can in order to grow and develop them for the major league level,” he said. “We felt like Albuquerque would provide us with a facility more accommodating from a player-development standpoint.”
Although the move did not surprise him, Logan said losing the Dodgers left him, and surely many local fans of the storied franchise, with an “empty feeling.”
“I feel bad because the Dodgers are the best affiliate for us, from a proximity standpoint, and there are a lot of Dodgers fans here,” he said. “It certainly illustrates what I’ve been saying for years: The facility hurts us. There’s no other way to say it.
“This certainly should be the wake-up call that we’ve got to address the stadium issue.”
At the start of next season, Cashman Field will be the fifth-oldest of the nation’s 30 Triple-A ballparks. But two of the other four — in Portland, Ore., and Omaha, Neb. — recently underwent multimillion dollar renovations.
“Until that stadium situation gets resolved there, (Logan’s) hands are really tied because of that facility,” Isotopes general manager John Traub said. “A new facility does everything for you. Major league clubs want certain amenities to develop their players: weight rooms, batting cages, video room.”
The departure of the Dodgers stirred emotions with the 125 members of the 51s booster club.
“I think among many of the members there is a sense of sadness, maybe even a little bit of anger toward the Dodgers,” club president Abigail Aguilar said. “Many of the people in the 51s booster club are Dodger fans.”
Aguilar said she and the club would support whichever affiliate came in.
Despite the stadium issue and departure of the Dodgers, Las Vegas is certain to be home to a Triple-A team next season.
Potential affiliates are the Marlins, who spent the past six years in Albuquerque, the Nationals and the Blue Jays.
The Columbus Clippers of the International League severed ties with the Nationals, and the Syracuse Chiefs, also of the International League, recently ended their 31-year affiliation with the Blue Jays.
Columbus is expected to affiliate with the Cleveland Indians, who are leaving Buffalo, N.Y. The New York Mets, who are leaving New Orleans of the Pacific Coast League, are expected to affiliate with Buffalo, the New York Daily News reported this week.
The shuffle leaves the Marlins and Nationals to move to Syracuse, New Orleans or Las Vegas, while the Blue Jays can land only in New Orleans or Las Vegas.
Logan plans to meet with representatives from each team, either in person or via conference call, in the next few days. He said he expects to have a deal in place soon.
“We aren’t going to let this linger,” he said. “We’ll find out who’s interested and let it rip.”
Teams and affiliates have until Sept. 30 to reach an agreement. If one is not reached by then, the league will assign a team to an affiliate.
Comparing the situation to a “shotgun wedding,” Logan said that he will try to ensure the “people involved will be good to work with” and that “it’s important to put a quality product on the field and to try to win games.”
Las Vegas changed its name from the Stars to the 51s in 2001, when it switched affiliates from the San Diego Padres to the Dodgers.
The Stars won two PCL titles, went to the playoffs seven times and enjoyed eight winning seasons in 18 years (1,227-1,329).
The 51s, who went 74-69 this year, went to the playoffs once, in 2002, when they recorded a franchise-record 85 victories, and had three winning seasons in eight years (561-586). The team produced several key players for the Dodgers, including starters Russell Martin, James Loney, Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp and Chad Billingsley.
The three potential affiliates posted losing records last season.
Contact reporter Todd Dewey at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0354.51S HISTORY
2001 — Las Vegas signs player development contract with Los Angeles Dodgers, ends 18-year affiliation with San Diego Padres, changes name from Stars to 51s.
2002 — 51s finish 85-59, take first place in division, set franchise record for wins, lose to Edmonton in four games (3-1) in playoffs.
2007 — 51s finish 67-77 for second straight year, fourth consecutive losing season.
2008 — 51s finish 74-69, first winning season in five years; Dodgers agree to two-year player development contract with Albuquerque, ending eight-year affiliation with Las Vegas.