When season ends, affiliate changes begin

Class A Advanced level shifts dramatically, stability reigns elsewhere

Arkansas, Carolina, Modesto, Mobile and Jackson are among teams with new Major League affiliates entering the 2017 season.

By Benjamin Hill / MiLB.com | September 22, 2016 10:00 AM ET

At the end of each even-numbered season, professional baseball's mating ritual begins.

Major and Minor League clubs are affiliated via Player Development Contracts (PDCs), which can last for two or four years. In recent weeks, several changes to the landscape have taken place as entities with expiring PDCs played the field in hopes of finding ideal matches. When it comes to what makes an ideal match, priorities vary.

Major League clubs put an emphasis on the quality of the Minor League facility, while Minor League clubs prefer to partner with Major League organizations that have proven track records of winning at the Minor League level. Geographical proximity is important to both entities. Major League clubs benefit from being able to move their players from club to club with minimal hassle while enabling their executives to visit the teams in question with relative ease and frequency. Proximity benefits Minor League clubs at the gate, in that fans are more likely to pay to see a team that's affiliated with the nearest Major League organization.

This year's affiliates shuffle is nearly complete (the deadline for such maneuvering is Sept. 30). What follows is an overview of what's already occurred.

Triple-A (International, Pacific Coast leagues)

At the end of the 2014 season, there were a whopping 21 affiliation changes within the world of Minor League Baseball. And the Pacific Coast League was at the vanguard in this world of change. Six clubs -- Albuquerque, Colorado Springs, Fresno, Nashville, Oklahoma City and Sacramento -- shifted affiliations.

Such tumult is nowhere to be found in 2016, as both the PCL and International League are unchanged. The last switch in the IL occurred following the 2012 season, when the Buffalo Bisons became a Blue Jays affiliate.

Double-A (Eastern, Southern, Texas leagues)

On Sept. 15, the Jackson Generals won the 2016 Southern League championship as a Mariners affiliate. Four days later, the affiliation ended. On Monday, the Mariners signed a two-year PDC with the Texas League's Arkansas Travelers. The Travelers had spent the previous 16 seasons as an Angels affiliate, and during five of those seasons (2011-15) the Angels' general manager was Jerry Dipoto. Dipoto assumed that same role with the Mariners prior to this season, which seems to have been a factor in the affiliation switch.

"The Travelers are excited to have this opportunity to start a new relationship with the Seattle Mariners," Travelers president Russ Meeks said in a news release. "This also brings an opportunity to, again, work with Jerry Dipoto and his staff. We have a mutual understanding of our goals and objectives in the development of players at the Double-A level."

In a related move, Jackson signed a four-year PDC with the Diamondbacks. This ended the D-backs 10-year affiliation with the Mobile BayBears, who summarily signed a two-year PDC with the only Major League organization left in the Double-A mix: the Angels.

The Eastern League remains unchanged from where it was two years ago. The last switch in that circuit occurred following the 2014 season, when the New Britain Rock Cats (now the Hartford Yard Goats) became a Rockies affiliate.

Class A Advanced (California, Carolina, Florida State leagues)

The big news at this level is, of course, the contraction of two teams in the California League and corresponding expansion of the Carolina League. The Bakersfield Blaze and High Desert Mavericks are the contracted teams in question; they will be absorbed within the Carolina League by a team in Kinston, North Carolina, and another at a locale to be determined (with Fayetteville, North Carolina, the likely destination). Some notes on this complicated series of events, which have repercussions throughout all three Class A Advanced leagues:

-- The Texas Rangers, whose Class A Advanced affiliate had been in High Desert, own the new Carolina League team in Kinston. This club will be known by the geographical designation of "Down East" and is in the process of choosing its nickname from one of five finalists: Eagles, HamHawks, Hogzillas, Shaggers and Wood Ducks. Kinston last hosted Minor League Baseball in the form of the Kinston Indians, who relocated to Zebulon, North Carolina, following the 2011 season and became the Carolina Mudcats.

-- The Bakersfield Blaze had been a Mariners affiliate. The organization is staying in the California League, signing a four-year PDC with the Modesto Nuts on Tuesday. The Mariners also announced they are the new majority owners of the Nuts, likely ensuring a Seattle affiliation for years to come. Modesto had been aligned with the Rockies, whose Class A Advanced possibilities are the Lancaster JetHawks (California League) or Carolina Mudcats (Carolina League).

-- The other new team in the Carolina League likely will be affiliated with the Astros, as that organization is in talks with the city of Fayetteville to build a new ballpark. That facility wouldn't be ready until 2019 at the earliest, however, and it is unclear where the team will play in the interim.

-- The Astros had been affiliated with the JetHawks. It's possible that Lancaster's next affiliate will be the Brewers, who had had been aligned with the now-defunct Brevard County Manatees of the Florida State League. The Manatees relocated to Kissimmee, Florida, and last week signed a four-year PDC with the Braves (who have their Spring Training home in Kissimmee). The name of this team is yet to be determined, with Dragonflies, Fire Frogs, Mud Kickers, Rodeo Clowns, Sorcerers and Toucans the finalists.

Class A (Midwest, South Atlantic leagues)

Moving down a rung on the Minor League ladder, the situation is far more sedate. As of now, there had been no changes within either Class A circuit, although the Dayton Dragons (Cincinnati Reds), Lansing Lugnuts (Toronto Blue Jays) and Augusta GreenJackets (San Francisco Giants) have yet to renew their existing agreements.

Class A Short Season (New York-Penn, Northwest leagues)

At this level, there's another strong dose of stability. A pair of New York-Penn League franchises -- the Hudson Valley Renegades and Batavia Muckdogs -- have yet to renew with the Rays and Marlins, respectively.

Rookie-level (Appalachian, Pioneer leagues)

The status quo also reigns here. Nearly all Appalachian League teams are owned by their parent clubs, so movement within the circuit is rare. That's largely not the case in the Pioneer League, which nonetheless remains a bastion of stability.

For more instances of things staying the same, check out this 2014 article on the longest continuous affiliations in Minor League Baseball. All of them remain intact.

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

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