One of the key storylines this offseason is the restructuring of the minor league system by Major League Baseball. With the professional baseball agreement between the two leagues expiring at the end of the 2020 season, MLB has sought to take more control and reshape the feeder system to its liking. That means cutting over 40 affiliates, eliminating short-season ball, and limiting travel.
It had been assumed from the time this news first broke that the Eugene Emeralds would be lost as part of the short-season shift. Sure enough, Cubs Insider recently confirmed that loss with a coy tweet from Emeralds’ GM Allan Benavides. As for the other four affiliates, the Cubs always seemed to have strong personal and professional relationships since adding Myrtle Beach and South Bend at the end of the 2014 season.
As for when things will be made official, that’s still up in the air. The Yankees broke ground first by announcing their affiliates back in early November. The Mets soon followed and the Astros made some waves when word came out that they had bought into the formerly independent Sugar Land Skeeters and made them Houston’s Triple-A affiliate.
— Houston Astros (@astros) November 20, 2020
The Mariners actually posted online job openings for their 2021 affiliates, which also confirmed that the former Northwest League would be moving to high class-A. But just as it started to seem like things were getting clearer, news came out that MLB is giving some teams deadlines to comply with their affiliation requests. Here’s one for the Fresno Grizzlies, who have previously been a Triple-A affiliate for the Giants and Nationals.
An MLB official told city leaders they have until Monday. https://t.co/TOzFFb181m
— Fresno Bee (@FresnoBee) November 26, 2020
So, it would seem, that everything is still up in the air about which teams are playing at which level. As this tweet suggests, everything looks like it is coming to head as MLB looks to dictate the affiliates, levels, and leagues. That’s in keeping with the idea that MiLB was going to be like the “Wild West” as teams that weren’t able to operate in 2020 sought to maintain existing affiliations or secure new ones.
While it doesn’t seem as though the Cubs need Wyatt Earp to come in and clean things up, there could still be a little movement between leagues and levels for their teams. Longtime Iowa Cubs beat writer Tommy Birch confirmed that the I-Cubs will remain the Cubs’ Triple-A affiliate, though it looks like they could be moving to the International League or a new league based that better suits their geography. Considering the amount of travel the I-Cubs had in the Pacific Coast League, this fits well with MLB’s new guidelines.
South Bend will remain in the organization and the Midwest League, but will be the Cubs’ new high-A affiliate as their entire league bumps up a level. That leaves Myrtle Beach, which we’ve surmised for a while now would swap rungs with South Bend on the development ladder. Baseball America all but confirmed that recently by reporting that there will be a new low-A league in the Southeast populated by teams from the South Atlantic and Carolina Leagues.
While nothing is certain until official announcements have been made, all indications are that the Pelicans will be one of those Carolina League teams making a move. Barring a significant development, which isn’t out of the question given the way things have gone so far, everything should be finalized somewhat soon.
If you’re keeping score at home, or if you’ve been following our coverage here, you probably know the Tennessee Smokies are a lock to stay in a new eight-team Southern League at Double-A. That’s big for Smokies owner Randy Boyd, who unveiled plans for a $142 million stadium project in downtown Knoxville this past summer. The Smokies’ current lease doesn’t expire until 2024, but Boyd would surely want to know he’d have the draw of the Cubs name before making such a big play.
Regardless of how things shake out for each team, you can bet they’re all hoping for confirmation to come soon. Teams typically make big marketing pushes this time of year and some execs I have spoken with are really anxious about getting their promotional schedules set and ordering supplies for their team shops.