This weekend, the Kane County Cougars won the Midwest League title. Just prior, their player development contract (PDC) with the Chicago Cubs – the agreement that governs their relationship as a minor league affiliate of the Cubs – expired. Given that KC had just announced renovations at their ballpark that conformed to some requests and specifications from the Cubs, renewing the PDC seemed just a matter of time. After all, it’s not that uncommon for these agreements to expired, and then be renewed during a two-week affiliate shuffle period.
But that hasn’t happened yet, and the Cubs have actually had three PDC’s expire this week: Kane County (full-season Low-A), Boise (short-season Low-A), and Daytona (High-A). It’s possible that all three levels could feature new Cubs affiliates next year.
The period during which teams can officially negotiate with new potential affiliates opens tomorrow, and lasts two weeks. It sounds like it could be a crazy two weeks.
More on the affiliate shuffle …
- The possibility of leaving Kane County is the biggest surprise of the bunch. Bruce Miles reports that, contrary to our expectations (because of the stadium upgrades), he hears there’s only a 50/50 shot that the Cubs stay with Kane County. As you might expect, the issue is whether the facilities at Kane County are/will be the best for the Cubs’ development purposes. The location is great, but if the facilities aren’t top notch, then you can understand why the Cubs might shop around. Further, one of the reportedly interested Midwest League teams is the South Bend Silver Hawks, whose PDC with the Diamondbacks just expired.
- Let me add that I’ve been told of South Bend’s interest in the Cubs for years now. The interest, at least from their perspective, is real. Keep in mind: while Kane County is in the Chicago suburbs, South Bend is only about another 30 to 40 minutes in drive time, depending on traffic. The Cubs eagerly moved their Low-A affiliate from Peoria to Kane County just two years ago, you’ll remember, given its geographic proximity to Chicago. Peoria was about two and half hours downstate. In other words, even if the focus of the moves here were geographic, South Bend is much closer than Peoria, and almost as close as Kane County.
- If it weren’t for the serious prior interest by South Bend, by the way, I’d call this just a little timely leverage-grabbing the Cubs to ensure that KC upgrades its facilities to the nines. As it stands, I think this is probably going to be a legitimate three-way negotiation.
- As for the Cubs’ affiliation with the Daytona Cubs – a 22-year relationship – it’s very unclear what is going to happen. Given the blackout period between the expiration of PDCs (late last week) and the opening of negotiations (Tuesday), and the heavy penalties for commenting publicly on your plans, nobody is saying much. Team owner Andy Rayburn would say only that he believes the big-league Cubs are going to look around (Daytona Beach News-Journal). That article mentions money put into the facilities in Daytona, though it’s possible that isn’t the issue. As we’ve seen the last few years, rainouts in Daytona can be a real pain in the butt if you’re trying to ensure that guys get regular playing time, especially late in the year.
- If the Cubs decided to leave the Florida State League altogether, the other two High-A options are the Carolina League and the California League. There aren’t too many geographic benefits of those leagues over the FSL (other than weather), unless you consider Southern California’s relative proximity to Mesa, Arizona, where the Cubs’ Spring Training facilities reside. I can conjure some utility in having the High-A team “close” by, but it’s a bit of a stretch. You’re probably flying either way.
- (If the Cubs do move from the FSL to the California League, we’ll have to quickly wrap our heads around the performance changes: the FSL is one of the most, if not the most, pitcher-friendly leagues in all of the minors. The California League is one of the most, if not the most, hitter-friendly leagues in all of the minors.)
- And then there’s the Boise Hawks in the Northwest League, the team the Cubs might be most likely to leave. After years and years of trying to get facilities improvements to no avail, the Cubs may decide that now is finally the time to move on. The tenor of the local reports (example) is that the 14-year relationship will, indeed, come to a close.
- Remember: the Cubs do not own these affiliates, which is why the facilities questions fall to the actual owners of the various teams.
- As the Cubs continue to focus on the dramatic revamping of their farm system, I have to wonder whether the organization will soon consider adding another minor league team. Increasingly, organizations (particularly those renowned for having a strong player development focus) are adding a third short-season team (either a second rookie league team or a second Low-A short-season team) to accommodate the youngest ranks of their talent. Consider that if you are particularly good at accumulating interesting international talent AND drafting interesting types that you can also sign in volume, having space to get them regular games in their first couple pro seasons can be dicey if there are only two short season teams onto which to place them. Indeed, at TCR, Arizona Phil indicates that the Cubs this year had a small number of post-draft players who couldn’t be activated right away because there simply wasn’t roster space for them on a low-level team. That’s not good.
- That Arizona Phil piece is a good read for all of these issues, by the way. He has many thoughts on where the Cubs might shift their affiliations.
- Speaking of adding new teams: the Yankees are adding a *fourth* short-season team. To recap: the Cubs have two short-season teams, as do about 19 other big league organizations. The Yankees have four.
- If you want to do some speculating, Baseball America lists all PDCs, and notes which ones have expired (and thus would theoretically be open for the Cubs to pair up). Based solely on city and mascot, my vote for moves at High-A and Short-Season Low-A go to the Rancho Cucamonda Quakes and the Orem Owlz. They could be the Rancho Cucamonga Cubs, and the Orem Cubz.