The affiliation shuffle, where major league teams chose who will host their minor league players for the upcoming season, has been over for almost a week now. And still, we have no official announcement of a renewal a the player development contract (PDC) between the Cubs and their Double-A affiliate, the Tennessee Smokies. However, a Cubs spokesperson has confirmed that the Cubs and the Smokies have renewed their affiliation through the 2020 season. This matches up with a report in the Pensacola News Journal earlier this week that the Cubs and the Smokies had renewed their agreement and just never announced it.
It is clearly good news that the Cubs Double-A affiliate is staying in Tennessee for two more seasons. The Smokies have the second-longest relationship with the Cubs, dating back to 2007. The alternatives to Tennessee included a return to the Texas League, where the Cubs have not had an affiliate since 1984.
But it is curious that the Cubs and Smokies renewed this agreement and didn’t tell anyone. Usually these things are announced with a big press conference or at least a major press release. The Midland RockHounds and the Athletics also did not make an announcement about the renewal of their PDC, but in that case they were the final two teams standing and they had no choice but to renew.
It’s also interesting that the agreement is only for two years. PDCs can be for two or four years and the Cubs and Smokies renewed for four years the last time the agreement was up in 2014.
It would be a mistake to conclude from all of this that the relationship between the Cubs and Smokies is strained. If that were the case, the Cubs or the Smokies would have simply not renewed the agreement. Both sides would have had a lot of suitors if they were free agents. There has been some talk about a new stadium for the Smokies, potentially moving the team back into Knoxville proper. Perhaps the Cubs want to see how that plays out before committing long-term to the Smokies. Maybe there is a different reason that we just don’t know about right now.
But the new PDC between the Cubs and the Smokies means that the Cubs will have the same top-five affiliates through the 2020 season, meaning they will go six seasons without changing any of their farm teams. That’s the longest stretch of not changing any minor league affiliate in club history, or at least since the days when the Cubs only had one minor league team in Los Angeles in the 1930s.