Today the Cubs came to an agreement on a Player Development Contract with a minor league team, but it wasn't one we were expecting.
The Cubs Triple-A affiliate has been in Iowa since 1981, which is one of the longest continuous affiliations in baseball. Among full-season teams, only the Royals and Omaha, the Phillies and Reading as well as the Red Sox and Pawtucket have had longer relationships.
This announcement is both a surprise and it isn't . No one expected the Cubs to leave Iowa, and in fact, the Cubs PDC with Iowa already ran through 2016. This agreement simply tacks two years onto the end of the deal. But it is a surprise in that with three other PDC agreements expired last week, it seems odd to deal with the one that wasn't going to expire for two more years first.
With this agreement, the Iowa Cubs and the Tennessee Smokies will be the Cubs top two farm clubs through the 2018 season at least.
As far as the other three affiliations go, in Kane County there is no news and lots of speculation. It was assumed that the Cougars announcement of improvements to Fifth Third Bank Ballpark was what the Cubs were looking for to renew their affiliation, but the Cubs still let the PDC expire last week. Most of the speculation has centered on the Cubs changing their affiliation to the South Bend Silver Hawks, who have recently completed a remodeling effort that has many saying that they have the nicest facilities in the Midwest League.
Al will have an article on Kane County going up a little bit later. Of all the PDCs that expired, the one the Cubs are most likely to renew is the one with Kane County. But it's clear that they want to hear what South Bend (and perhaps Ft. Wayne) have to say before making a final decision. This is not a done deal. The Cubs could leave Kane County.
As far as Daytona goes, it seems almost certain that the Cubs will be leaving Daytona after 22 seasons. Sean Kernan of the Daytona Beach News Journal reports that it is "highly unlikely" that the Cubs will stay in Daytona. The reason has nothing to do with the Daytona Cubs or the facilities there and pretty much everything to do with what many of you have complained about over the years: weather. Most of the speculation has the Cubs going to the Myrtle Beach Pelicans in the Carolina League, but that's because the son of the owner of the Myrtle Beach franchise works in the Cubs front office. If that's the only reason, that's a very dumb reason. However, according to the Pelicans' website, Baseball America ranked the Pelicans home field as the best in the Carolina League in 2009. Now that was five years ago, but it does seem like they have a nice facility. And of course, crowds in the Carolina League are always bigger than crowds in the Florida State League.
As far as Boise goes, I think the odds of the Cubs staying in Boise have increased from zero to something greater than zero. The Hudson Valley Renegades renewed their relationship with the Rays, so a move to the New York-Penn League is now out of the question. There are no open franchises in either of the Rookie Ball Leagues, so the Cubs are going to have to stay in the Northwest League. Salem-Keizer renewed with the Giants, so that option is off the table. There are three open franchises: the Tri-City Dust Devils, the Eugene Emeralds and Boise. There are three teams to fill those spots: the Cubs, the Rockies and the Padres.
The Cubs are clearly hoping to go to Eugene, who have a state of the art ballpark built in 2010. Eugene also has shorter bus trips on the road than Boise does. Tri-City offers few advantages over Boise. It does have a newer stadium, but it's not that much nicer. Additionally, while Pasco, Washington would offer slightly shorter bus rides (not by much though), it would be a much tougher city to fly in and out of than Boise is. Boise is also a much bigger city with more amenities.
The Cubs are frustrated by the poor facilities in Boise and to be fair, so are the owners of the Boise Hawks who have tried without success to build a new ballpark either downtown or near Boise State University.
The Cubs are clearly going to make a pitch for Eugene, as will the Padres and Rockies. If the Padres can convince the Emeralds to stick with the devil they know, then the Cubs would likely end up back in Boise.
The "affiliation shuffle" period when these contracts can be negotiated lasts for two weeks, starting today. The Cubs are expected to take the full two weeks for most of their decisions.