It's late September of an even-numbered year, and in the world of Minor League Baseball this holds special significance: It's PDC season.
For those who are new to this biennial ritual, PDC stands for Player Development Contracts. These are the agreements -- two or four years in length -- that bind Minor League teams to a Major League organization, and it would not be overstating the case to call them one of the most crucial components of Minor League Baseball's health and overall vitality. The Professional Baseball Agreement between Minor and Major League Baseball calls for a set number of PDCs, ensuring continuity and stability across the landscape.
And certainly, things remain stable. There are 160 PDCs, and of these, 148 remain unchanged (either because they were not up for renewal or have already been renewed). But what of the rest?
In this, the first "Minoring in Business" column of the 2012-'13 offseason, we'll take a look at the affiliation changes that have taken place over the past two weeks. Such changes often inspire courtship analogies, and for good reason: Looking for a new affiliate is, in essence, a search for the perfect mate. Some new PDCs mark the beginning of what promises to be a mutually beneficial long-term relationship, while others are the equivalent of Semisonic's "Closing Time" coming over the bar stereo at 2 a.m.: You just have to make do with whoever else still happens to be hanging around.
Buffalo is for the Birds
Buffalo Bisons (International League)
Old affiliate: New York Mets
New affiliate: Toronto Blue Jays
Of all the affiliation changes that have taken place over the past two weeks, the one that made the biggest splash was the two-year PDC between the Toronto Blue Jays and Buffalo Bisons. For the past four years, the Jays' Triple-A affiliate had been the Las Vegas 51s, a less-than-ideal circumstance considering the lack of geographical proximity between the two locales as well as the relatively dilapidated state of Las Vegas' Cashman Field.
Buffalo, meanwhile, had been affiliated with the Mets the past four seasons. The Bisons were open to a change, however, primarily because with the Mets as a parent, the team had finished a cumulative 53 games below .500. (Yes, Minor League Baseball is first and foremost about family-friendly entertainment, but in large baseball-savvy markets such as Buffalo, a winning team can go a long way at the gate). The marriage between the Bisons and the Jays was announced at a star-studded press conference on Sept. 18, which brought out the Blue Jays top brass as well as Toronto baseball notables such as Roberto Alomar and Cito Gaston.
"Aligning with the Blue Jays not only gives the Bisons a great regional partner, but also aligns us with one of the top Minor League systems in all of baseball," said Bisons owner Bob Rich Jr. at the press conference. "Toronto has a well-documented commitment to developing exciting young talent throughout their farm system."
The Blue Jays expressed commensurate enthusiasm.
"[From] a baseball point of view, this is a great fit for our organization. With only 160 kilometers [99 miles] separating the two fields, we will have greater flexibility to make roster decisions and an increased opportunity to watch our most developed prospects," said Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopolous. "We look forward to providing the Bisons with an exciting and talented roster."
For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction: The Blue Jays-Bisons partnership means that, yes, the Las Vegas 51s are now an affiliate of the New York Mets. In terms of facilities and geographical proximity this is a marked step down for the Mets, but there was truly no other choice.
Wild, wild Midwest
Those who take solace in continuity and consistency should be heartened by the fact that this year saw no affiliation changes whatsoever in the Eastern, Southern, Texas, Florida, California, Carolina, Northwest, Appalachian and Pioneer Leagues. But in the Midwest League, a whopping six teams will have a different parent club than they did in 2012. A brief overview of the more notable changes follows forthwith:
Kane County Cougars
Old affiliate: Kansas City Royals
New affiliate: Chicago Cubs
Kane County is a suburb of Chicago, and as such, it makes sense for the Cougars to be affiliated with one of the Windy City's Major League entities. The team signed a two-year PDC with the Cubs on Sept. 19, thereby establishing a relationship with clear benefits for both: Cubs' player development personnel can evaluate their Class A talent at a location just 45 miles west of Chicago, while the Cougars are already reporting a marked increase in ticket sales. (The Cougars were an affiliate of the Royals for the past two seasons, and prior to that, the Athletics. Neither affiliation was of much interest to Chicago baseball partisans.)
Old affiliate: Chicago Cubs
New affiliate: St. Louis Cardinals
For more than a quarter century, the Chiefs have alternately been an affiliate of the Cubs and the Cardinals. They were aligned with the Cubs from 1985-'95 and the Cards from 1996-2004 before reverting back to the Cubs the following season. But with the Cubs' decision to pack up their Class A shop and move it to Kane County, the Chiefs are back with the Cardinals once again after signing a four-year PDC.
This "everything old is new again" turn of events seems to suit the Chiefs, malleable Midwesterners who are located equidistant to St. Louis and Chicago, and as such, have regularly hosted promotions capitalizing on the Cards-Cubs rivalry. Like a closely contested swing state, they have switched from blue to red.
"We are thrilled to bring the color red back to the ballpark with one of the greatest organizations and fan bases in baseball," said Chiefs president Rocky Vonachen. "We hope that with all the great young talent the Cardinals have produced the last few seasons to bring another MWL championship to Peoria as they continue to bring World Series trophies to St. Louis."
Quad Cities River Bandits
Old affiliate: St. Louis Cardinals
New affiliate: Houston Astros
The domino effect continues ... with the Cubs going to Kane County and the Cardinals taking the Cubs' place in Peoria, the Astros were able to swoop in to the place the Cardinals vacated: Quad Cities -- this marks the second affiliation between the two, with the first taking place from 1993-'98. One influencing factor of this renewed relationship is that Jeff Luhnow serves as general manager of the Astros. Prior to this position he was the Cardinals' vice president of scouting and player development.
"We've known Jeff Luhnow for five years," remarked River Bandits owner Dave Heller. "He is one of the smartest people in all of baseball, a brilliant evaluator of talent, and a man who is committed to building his team through the farm system. Because of Jeff, we know beyond the shadow of a doubt that we will be seeing first-rate talent coming through the Quad Cities for years to come."
Noted: The Astros' previous Class A affiliate was the Lexington Legends of the South Atlantic League, who have since signed a PDC with the Kansas City Royals. This marks the only Class A affiliation change to take place outside of the Midwest League.
State College Spikes (New York-Penn League)
Old affiliate: Pittsburgh Pirates
New affiliate: St. Louis Cardinals
The four short-season leagues were almost completely static on the PDC front, with the most notable change being the New York-Penn League's State College Spikes jettisoning the Pittsburgh Pirates in favor of the Cardinals. At first glance, this seems like a curious move: State College is a region in which many fans have Pittsburgh sports loyalties, and Spikes owner Chuck Greenberg is a noted Pirates fan who stipulated that State College's Medlar Field at Lubrano Park possess the same dimensions of Pittsburgh's PNC Park. But such loyalties conly go so far, and the Spikes made no secret of their discontent with the prospects that Pittsburgh was sending them. The team did not post a winning record in any of the six seasons in which they were a Pirates affiliate. In fact, the only time that the Spikes have ever enjoyed a winning season was in their inaugural campaign of 2006 -- when they were an affiliate of the Cardinals.
"The 2006 season as a Cardinal affiliate remains the highlight of the Spikes' seven-year history and we are proud to realign with their successful, consistent approach to player development," said Spikes' general manager Jason Dambach in a press release.
Noted: After being spurned by the Spikes, the Pirates signed on with the Jamestown Jammers. The Jammers' previous affiliate, the Miami Marlins, appear destined for the Cardinals' old haunt of Batavia (although this has yet to be announced).