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The Official Site of Minor League Baseball
Change is all the rage in affiliation shifts
New agreements for 21 Minor League clubs since end of regular season
10/02/2014 10:00 AM ET
Theo Epstein's Cubs will be sending their three Class A teams to new ballparks in 2015.

The stability of the baseball industry is predicated upon a simple nine-word saying, one that hip-hop pioneers Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock have immortalized in song: It takes two to make a thing go right.

Major and Minor League teams are united in affiliation via Player Development Contracts (PDCs), two- or four-year agreements that expire at the end of even-numbered seasons. Thus, over the last several weeks a familiar biennial ritual has played out, as Major and Minor League clubs with expiring PDCs played the field in hope of finding ideal mates. Geographical proximity, the quality of the Minor League facility and the quality of the Major League farm system are some of the key factors that come into play when determining these relationships, which ideally culminate in profound feelings of mutual satisfaction.

2014's affiliation courtship rituals are now complete, and the numbers are in: 21 Minor League teams, representing 15 Major League organizations, changed affiliations upon the conclusion of the 2014 season. This is a significant increase from 2012 (12 changes), and also more than occurred during 2010 (13) and 2008 (19). Still, it's important to remember that the more things change, the more they stay the same: 139 Minor League clubs will enter the 2015 season with the same Major League affiliate they had in 2014. If you'll excuse yet another cliché: if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

What follows is an overview of 2014's affiliation shuffle. Good luck to all of the teams embarking upon new relationships, and remember: it takes two to make it out of sight.

Pacific Coast League gets an extreme makeover

The 16-team Pacific Coast League had been a relatively stable entity over the past six seasons, with only two changes occurring in 2010 and one in 2012 (the Mets taking over in Las Vegas in place of the Blue Jays). But the tune changed dramatically this time around -- six PCL organizations will be entering 2015 with a new Major League affiliate. (No other league has more than three new affiliations; the PCL's Triple-A counterpart the International League remains completely unchanged.)

The Sacramento River Cats had been an A's affiliate since their 2000 inception, but seized the opportunity to partner with the Giants due to San Francisco's status as the more popular of the two Bay Area MLB clubs.

"[A Giants affiliation] is clearly what a large percentage of the Sacramento region wants to see," River Cats president Jeff Savage told the Sacramento Bee.

The increased fan interest might come at a cost to the on-field product, however. The River Cats won 11 division titles and four league championships over 15 seasons as an A's affiliate. During that same period of time, the Giants-affiliated Fresno Grizzlies never even made the postseason.

With the Giants now in Sacramento, the Fresno Grizzlies signed a two-year PDC with the Houston Astros. This marks the first time in franchise history that Fresno has not been a San Francisco affiliate, but the Grizzlies are expressing optimism regarding their brave new reality. Houston? They do not have a problem.

"We're excited about the ability to hit the reset button and progress forward with a new organizational plan," said Grizzlies executive vice president Derek Franks. "Between the Houston Astros' top-rated farm system, the Minor League Baseball background of Astros president of business operations Reid Ryan, and the promotional plan our nationally renowned marketing team is creating, we're building considerable momentum for Opening Day 2015."

In a corresponding -- and surprising -- move, the A's signed a four-year PDC with the Nashville Sounds. The Sounds are moving into a new ballpark in 2015, and conventional wisdom dictated that they would continue their affiliation with the Milwaukee Brewers as a gesture of good faith. After all, the Brewers had been patient with the Sounds over the past decade, putting up with subpar conditions at the team's old home of Greer Stadium. But the Sounds, seeking to make a splash as they move into their new ballpark, opted for the A's instead. "Moneyball comes to Music City," read the Sounds' press release, with A's general manager Billy Beane, Mr. Moneyball himself, remarking therein that, "As we did our due diligence of available Triple-A markets, it became very clear that Nashville was the most attractive. It is a dynamic city and entertainment center with first-rate ownership, a long history of baseball and a location that is convenient for player movement." (Brewers general manager Doug Melvin, meanwhile, was less than pleased with the Sounds' decision not to renew their affiliation.)

The Brewers, left scrambling, opted for a two-year PDC with the Colorado Springs Sky Sox, who had themselves been spurned by the Colorado Rockies. The Sky Sox are an obvious geographic fit with the Rockies -- as regards both proximity and playing conditions -- and had been affiliated with them for the past 22 years. But the Rockies, seeking a facility upgrade over the Sky Sox's home of Security Service Field, opted sign a four-year PDC with the Albuquerque Isotopes.

Albuquerque was available for the Rockies because the Isotopes' previous affiliate, the Los Angeles Dodgers, are now with the Oklahoma City RedHawks. This is a relationship that is poised to last for a long time. As part of the Mandalay Entertainment Group's ongoing divestment of its baseball properties, the RedHawks were recently sold to a group led by Peter Gruber. Gruber is also member of the Dodgers' ownership group, and a Dodgers affiliation in Oklahoma City was part of the purchase agreement. (The Dodgers also signed a two-year PDC with the Texas League's Tulsa Drillers, meaning that their top two farm teams are now based in Oklahoma.)

Cubs shuffle the deck

The Chicago Cubs' top two Minor League teams remain unchanged: Iowa at the Triple-A level and Tennessee in Double-A. But the lower tier of the organization's farm system underwent a significant overhaul, as part of president of baseball operations Theo Epstein's concerted effort to secure the best facilities available for his prospects.

At the Class A Advanced level, the Cubs opted to discontinue their 22-year affiliation with Daytona of the Florida State League (Daytona's Jackie Robinson Ballpark is the oldest stadium in the FSL). Instead, they signed a two-year PDC with the Myrtle Beach Pelicans, a move that should benefit Myrtle Beach at the box office. Myrtle Beach tourists make up a significant portion of the Pelicans' single-game ticket sales, and the Cubs possess legions of well-traveled fans. At Class A, the Cubs opted not to continue their affiliation with the Midwest League's Kane County Cougars despite the fact that Kane County's home in Geneva, Illinois, is on the western fringes of the Chicago suburbs. Instead, the Cubs signed a four-year deal with the South Bend Silver Hawks, a team that has made significant upgrades to its stadium in recent years. The Silver Hawks were so pleased with this new arrangement that they pulled up their artificial turf in favor of installing real grass and bucked ongoing Minor League unique-team-name orthodoxy and changed their name to the Cubs.

"The Chicago Cubs are one of the most iconic brands in all of sports and with this partnership we felt it made sense for us to align ourselves with them," wrote South Bend Cubs president Joe Hart in an email. "It is a new chapter in our team history, and while there certainly is history and tradition with the Silver Hawks name, we felt it was the best choice moving forward. There is a huge Cubs fan base in our region and now our fans will have the opportunity to watch future Chicago Cubs big leaguers at Four Winds Field. It is an exciting time for our organization and our community."

Finally, at the Class A Short Season level, the Cubs abandoned unsatisfactory facilities in Boise, Idaho, in favor of a two-year PDC with the Eugene Emeralds. The Emeralds play in PK Park, a four-year-old stadium that is shared with the University of Oregon baseball program.

The more things change...

Despite the number of affiliation changes that have recently taken place, it's worth remembering that the most-enduring partnerships in Minor League Baseball all remained intact. None of the 10 longest affiliations were severed; the longest remains a tie between the Reading Fightin Phils (affiliated with Philadelphia since 1967) and the Lakeland Flying Tigers (affiliated with Detroit since 1967).

Benjamin Hill is a reporter for and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs. Comments

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