The Cubs have sent Triple-A players to Des Moines, Iowa to play for the Iowa Cubs since 1981. That’s the third-longest affiliation for any team at the Triple-A level. Only the Gwinnett Stripers (formerly the Richmond Braves, relocated in 2009), a Braves affiliate since 1965, and the Omaha Storm Chasers (formerly the Omaha Royals), a Royals affiliate since the Kansas City club came into existence in 1969, have had longer continuous affiliations.
Though we still don’t know exactly which affiliated minor-league teams are going away in MLB’s reorganization of the minors or how that’s going to shake out, the Cubs will apparently be continuing their relationship with Iowa:
No official announcement yet. But I’ve spoken to people from the Chicago Cubs and Iowa Cubs. Expectation is that Iowa will remain the Triple-A affiliate for Chicago.— Tommy Birch (@TommyBirch) November 16, 2020
This is good news from several standpoints. First, the proximity of Des Moines to Chicago means that it will remain fairly easy for things like the “Iowa Shuttle” to continue. Further, the long relationship and proximity has created tons of Cubs fans in Iowa and that has benefitted both the Iowa squad and the big-league club. Affiliation agreements between MLB teams and minor-league clubs have, in the past, been for two or four years, but there has been some talk that under the reorganization MLB wants, minor-league teams would now be “licensed” for up to 10 years, or possibly even longer.
As for the other affiliates, we play a waiting game. There probably won’t be any changes for the Cubs at the Double-A level, as the Southern League’s Tennessee Smokies aren’t likely to be affected by any changes and this relationship, which has existed since 2007.
The A level is where we might see some changes. There are rumors that the entire Midwest League might be bumped up to the Advanced-A level, which would include the South Bend Cubs, the Cubs’ affiliate there since 2015. This relationship has also been solid and the Cubs likely would want to stay there.
That would leave the Myrtle Beach Pelicans in a sort of limbo. The Cubs wouldn’t likely want two Advanced-A affiliates, but it’s not clear which league or leagues would shift to that level, if the Midwest League becomes an Advanced-A league.
While teams have been permitted more than four affiliates in the past — in 2019 the Cubs had five, including the short-season Eugene Emeralds — it appears the expectation going forward is that teams would have four affiliates, or “licensees,” and then have another team at their spring-training complex. The Cubs had two such teams in 2019, playing in the Arizona Rookie League.
It’s still unclear how the minor leagues will be organized going forward. You can be certain that things will be different, and this isn’t necessarily a good thing for many communities who will lose affiliated baseball, or for young players chasing a big-league dream. Thanks, Rob Manfred.