The end of each even-numbered season brings with it the expiration of many Player Development Contracts (PDCs), the two- or four-year agreements that bind Major League teams and Minor League affiliates. PDCs are often unceremoniously renewed by the teams in question, but in many cases the parties involved are motivated to seek out new and hopefully more fulfilling relationships.
And while the term "PDC" might not be in the vocabulary of most baseball fans, they are absolutely crucial to professional baseball as we know it.
"Minor League Baseball guarantees to Major League Baseball a set number of affiliated teams, and Major League Baseball does the same," explained Minor League Baseball Executive Vice President and COO Tim Purpura. "That's something that's been in effect since 1990, as part of the Professional Baseball Agreement. There will always be a certain number of PDCs available, and that creates continuity and keeps things stable.
"And that's what's so important about affiliated Minor League Baseball," he continued. "We're the only organizations that provide facilities to Major League teams, and we're the only organizations that they provide players to. And once you're affiliated, unless you move, you continue to hold that PDC. It ties you to an MLB organization contractually, and before [the Professional Baseball Agreement in] 1990 there was no guarantee of that. It's a very valuable thing."
This arrangement brings stability but not necessarily stagnation.
"At the beginning of the process, Minor League teams interested in re-affiliating notify our office. We collect that data and compare it with what the Commissioner's Office has received from Major League teams," said Purpura.
By compiling and then releasing this data to interested parties on both sides of the equation, Major and Minor League Baseball are essentially playing matchmaker. Beginning on Sept. 16 and extending through September 30, Minor League teams are free to negotiate with potential new Major League affiliates (although many might end up renewing their current PDC).
"It's a rare occurrence that clubs don't come to agreement [within the designated two-week window]," said Purpura. "But come Oct. 1, we'll get together [with the Commissioner's Office] and compare notes. We'll then have until Oct. 7 to pair together teams that have not affiliated."
The past week has seen a wide array of new PDCs at all levels of play. The Round Rock Express are now with the Texas Rangers, for example, and Vancouver's agreement with Toronto united Canada's sole affiliated professional franchises. But, though some things are changing, many more are staying the same.
"It seems like this year there's been a lot of interest from Major and Minor League teams to cement relationships that began two years ago," said Purpura. "There were a lot of changes [in 2008], teams trying each other on for size, but many of those new relationships were renewed early on this time around. It really lent itself to a smooth process."
And that's what PDCs are at their core -- a relationship. Rewarding though they may be, they're not always easy.
"[Changing affiliates] can be emotional, because bonds are often created with the people who run the clubs, and bonds can be created with fans," said Purpura. "Relationships are the best way to describe a [PDC], but they're business relationships. Things sometimes change, and you have to make adjustments."