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Today’s affiliation buzz: What’s happening with the Cubs?

Chicago CubsWith the Chicago Cubs declining to renew player-development contracts with the Daytona Cubs, Kane County Cougars and Boise Hawks, the MLB team may be looking to revamp its farm system for 2015 and beyond.

There is a definite plus for any MiLB team to affiliated with the Cubs: the brand awareness is tremendous. Other teams may do a better job of shuffling prospects and rehabs through their system, but the Cubs name is recognizable and marketable. Despite the past few seasons, where the Cubs have failed to excel on the diamond and alienated some with their Wrigley Field expansion plans, the Cubs name is a powerful brand.

Which is why there is demand on the MiLB level for a Cubs affiliation. But in MiLB circles there’s some questioning as to exactly what the Cubs intend on doing. This doesn’t appear to be an intentional makeover of the lower farm system, but rather responses to three different situations. Here’s a look at each:

Daytona Cubs (High Class A; Florida State League): The Cubs have always been kind of an odd player in the Florida State League, with the team’s spring and rookie operations in Mesa, Arizona. Daytona Cubs owner Andy Rayburn sounds like he wanted to renew with Chicago, but as of last night no renewal was forthcoming:

“I have no notification and I don’t know what our status is,” Rayburn said Thursday in a phone interview, adding he’d never been this far along the affiliation process without reaching an agreement….

This is an unusual situation. The Chicago Cubs had always renewed agreements with Daytona long before this stage, Rayburn said, and earlier this year announced an extension with the Double-A Tennessee Smokies.

As mentioned, the Cubs’ player-development operations are centered in Mesa, which would make a California League affiliation logical. But it’s not a very good way to treat the D-Cubs: forcing a potential rebranding so late in the process puts a lot of pressure on team ownership.

Kane County Cougars (Low Class A; Midwest League): Many in baseball assumed an affiliation renewal when Cougars ownership announced a ballpark renovation plan that included changes requested by the Chicago Cubs. Turns out that was not the case, and Sept. 11 passed with no affiliation renewal news.

And it’s no secret other Midwest League teams would love to snare the Cubs. The South Bend Silver Hawks declined to renew their affiliation with the Arizona Diamondbacks and are shopping for a new parent; a Cubs affiliation would certainly boost the fortunes of that club. Similarly, with ties between the Fort Wayne TinCaps front office and Cubs player-development types, a marriage between those two teams would make sense.

If you’re the Cubs, there are some branding issues to consider. While a Kane County affiliation is nice, it does little for the Cubs brand: the Cubs are already strong in the western Chicago suburbs. Affiliating with South Bend could expand the regional presence of the team; affiliating with Fort Wayne would put Cubs prospects in the best-equipped facility when it comes to player amenities and playing surface. These regional considerations are important: the Minnesota Twins credit an expansion of the team’s broadcasting contract into Iowa because of the team’s affiliation with the Cedar Rapids Kernels.

Boise Hawks (short season A; Northwest League): This would appear to be a facilities issue; no secret the Cubs have been unhappy with the team’s home. (As is the current team ownership: a new ballpark has been on the agenda for years now.) And with an ownership change for the Hawks in the works, the Cubs may be hesitant in committing to an uncertain situation. (The Hawks confirm the pair have parted ways for now.)

Now, none of this means the Cubs won’t be returning to any of these three affiliates; it’s not uncommon for a team to shop for a new affiliate and then return to the old affiliate after finding the grass isn’t greener elsewhere. And things change rapidly when it comes to affiliations; a new team could be announced any second. But shopping season has definitely begun.

Here’s a look at the current affiliate status in Minor League Baseball.


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