Sport Change has been bingeing on MiLB posts lately, but who can resist a juicy bit of gossip? For those of you who have been following our “Boys of Summer” stretch here on Sport Change and are anxious for posts about Major League Baseball: hang tight. They’re in the on-deck circle.
Though it’s all in the rumor stage, it seems that the Chicago Cubs are looking switch their A-Ball Midwest League affiliate from the in-state Peoria Chiefs to the even closer in-state Kane County Cougars. This could mean a little reshuffling in the Midwest League, so it’s the perfect opportunity to discuss Midwest League reaffiliation.
Peoria has represented the Cubs on-and-off since 1985. Greg Maddux and Mark Grace are among the notable alums of the Chiefs. It seems to be a healthy affiliation with an in-state farm club, so why the change? Hard to say, but I can offer a few possibilities:
1. It’s closer to home. The Cougars play in Geneva, a western suburb of Chicago about an hour’s drive from Wrigley. Peoria is about a three hour drive. There has been a trend in the minors of parent clubs wanting farm clubs close to home. This makes sense for GMs and scouts who travel back and forth to check out talent. It also makes sense for rehab assignment players who can sleep in their own beds and drive to the MiLB stadiums for games. In the grand scheme of things, the Cubs already have it pretty good in Peoria, so I suspect something else…
2. Money. The Cougars already do a very admirable job of filling many of the 7,400 seats in Fifth Third Bank ballpark. Their 2011 per game average of 6,123 fans was 24th highest in all of the minors, more than many AAA and AA teams. Switching their allegiance from the Kansas City Royals to the hometown Cubs could push Kane County up into the top 12. If they build more seats, they could even give the IronPigs a run for their money.
So there are incentives on both ends, and the switch makes sense. The loser here is the Peoria Chiefs and the people of Peoria. Unfortunately, the Chicago White Sox are signed up with the low-A club in Kannapolis, North Carolina through 2014. That’s a bummer for both Peoria and the ChiSox. I expect that the Peoria Chiefs will simply switch to Kansas City now that the Cougars have leapt to the Cubs.
Keeping it real.
I tend to get a little fantastical with MiLB reaffiliation or realignment scenarios, but I vow to ground this one in something resembling reality. The only teams we will explore are teams that have their PDC (player development contract) with their parent clubs expiring now, in 2012. September is the season for reaffiliation. It’s coming soon, so teams are busy re-signing PDCs. The Midwest league has an exorbitant amount of expiring PDCs, so let’s go nuts and reaffiliate at will.
Midwest League teams with PDCs expiring in 2012:
Beloit Snappers (Minnesota Twins)
Bowling Green Hot Rods (Tampa Bay Rays)
Burlington Bees (Oakland A’s)
Cedar Rapids Kernels (Anaheim Angels)
Clinton Lumber Kings (Seattle Mariners)
Dayton Dragons (Cincinnati Reds)
Fort Wayne Tin Caps (San Diego Padres)
Kane County Cougars (Kansas City Royals)
Peoria Chiefs (Chicago Cubs)
Quad Cities River Bandits (St. Louis Cardinals)
South Bend Silver Hawks (Arizona Diamondbacks)
For starters, I want to take the Dayton Dragons out of this conversation as they will almost definitely re-sign with the Reds. The Dragons/Reds tandem is a no-brainer with the close proximity and the success of both teams. I’m also assuming Cubs and Cougars is a done deal.
I’m also going to mostly ignore teams switching affiliates back and forth between the MWL and the other Low-A league, the Sally League. The White Sox with Kannapolis, NC as well as the Giants with Augusta, GA make zero sense, but it’s too late. These PDCs are signed through till 2014.
The one exception I’m going to make is shipping the Rays out of the MWL (Bowling Green) and adding the Rockies (Asheville). I’ll reaffiliate the Sally League some other day, but for this exercise both Colorado and Bowling Green are without partners.
Kansas City and Peoria are also without partners. It’s likely that they will couple up, but until it’s official, we’re going to fiddle around.
We have nine Midwest League teams and nine MLB teams. Let’s play matchmaker!
First, a few criteria:
-Teams should have some degree of geographic common sense. In this case of the Midwest league and the West Coast MLB teams, it’s less important because honestly: does it really matter if a team in central Iowa or a team in southern Iowa is affiliated with the Mariners or the A’s? No.
-If it comes to splitting hairs, teams will remain with their current affiliate. The GMs and scouts have already visited these little towns. They know how to get from the airport to the hotel to the stadium. They know where to get a good sandwich and cup of coffee. You get the idea.
-If there’s any chance, farm teams within the fan market region of a parent team will be paired up. Example: Kane County and the Cubs.
-Conversely, MLB teams whose parent club is a rival of the team in that fan market will be avoided. Example: Kansas City may want to avoid the White Sox fans in Peoria.
-As a last deciding factor, if the MWL team was once an affiliate of a parent club, the reunion will be honored. Though it’s unlikely, perhaps some fans of say, the Kane County Cougars are also Baltimore Orioles fans from back in the early nineties when the two teams were paired up.
Without further ado, here it are the results of the Sport Change shuffle:
-Beloit Snappers and Kansas City Royals. Beloit is Brewer country, and the Crew haven’t been in the AL since the nineties. A rivalry with the Royals is largely water under the bridge. A rivalry with the Twins, however, is still on the periphery due to interleague “rivalry” games and the natural rivalry between Minnesota and Wisconsin in many aspects of life.
-Bowling Green Hot Rods and St. Louis Cardinals. The current Cards affiliate (Quad Cities) is in Cubs country. With the Hot Rods being spurned by the Rays in our fantasy, the Cards tuck the Rods under their wing. The two cities are actually pretty close to each other, and I bet that there are plenty of Cardinal fans in Kentucky.
-Burlington Bees with Oakland Athletics. This one remains the same. The A’s and Bees are a good fit.
-Cedar Rapids Kernels with Minnesota Twins. Iowa may be Cubs country, but the Twins play in the AL. Cedar Rapids is the closest farm team to the Twin Cities, so there’s incentive for the Twins. There’s quite a bit of crossover between Minnesota and Iowa, and little reason for interstate rivalry. Unless you’re a corn farmer, that is.
-Clinton LumberKings with Seattle Mariners. Another West Coast-Iowa connection that remains. Why not?
-Fort Wayne Tin Caps with San Diego Padres. I guess Peoria is slightly closer to San Diego than Indiana is, but once the GM is up in the air, what’s an extra ten minutes in the plane? This one remains the same.
-Peoria Chiefs with Los Angeles Angels. Peoria may have lost the Cubs, but they find a good MLB team in the Angels, who were the Chiefs original parent club in 1983. Are any Angel fans left in Peoria?
-Quad Cities River Bandits with Colorado Rockies. Just matching up the teams who are left. The Rockies have less travel time, there are no real rivalry issues, and the River Bandits have a sort of Wild West appeal. It works.
-South Bend Silver Hawks with Arizona Diamondbacks. No need to change this. The D’Backs scouts are used to travelling coast to coast in order to scout talent. Let’s keep that way.
These are pretty modest proposals, and they should happen in September. Of course, they won’t. Reality always beats fantasy, even when fantasy makes more damn sense.
Sport Change will keep you posted on real reaffiliations and PDCs left unsigned as we move in to football season.
Thanks for reading. Comments welcome.