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The Cubs officially invite four minor-league teams to be 2021 affiliates

It’s part of MLB’s realignment of the minors.

Four Winds Field, home of the South Bend Cubs
Melqui Rodriguez/South Bend Cubs

Major League Baseball’s controversial realignment of the minor leagues is official as of today. 119 teams have been invited to remain in the affiliated structure of Minor League Baseball as “licensees” of MLB teams.

Why 119? There are 30 MLB teams and four remaining levels of affiliated minor-league baseball, so there should be 120. Here’s the reason, per J.J. Cooper of Baseball America:

... the impasse over the fate of the Rockies affiliate in the California League appears to be unresolved. Major League Baseball has told Fresno that it will not be offered a Triple-A affiliation but that it is open to offering a low Class A California League club (which would be the Rockies affiliate). That issue remains unresolved, which means MLB sent out 119 invitations today, not 120. Lancaster and Fresno have not received invitations.

For the Cubs, affiliates will be unchanged. As expected, the South Bend Cubs and the Midwest League are moving to the High-A level and the Myrtle Beach Pelicans and the Carolina league are moving to the Low-A level. So those teams remain as Cubs minor-league squads; it’ll just be a different level of players at each.

Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa remain Cubs affiliates. The Iowa Cubs have been a Cubs minor-league team since 1981, the third-longest such relationship between any MLB and MiLB team (Braves and Gwinnett, formerly Richmond, since 1965, and the Royals with Omaha since 1969 are the others).

“We are pleased to invite four of our long-time affiliates to continue working with us and help develop our players,” said Cubs Vice President of Player Development Matt Dorey in a statement. “These four teams have combined to work with the Cubs for 66 years, and that is only possible with strong ownership, hardworking front offices and welcoming communities at each level of our system.

“We would also like to thank the Eugene Emeralds for their commitment and tireless effort the past six years, highlighted by Northwest League titles in 2016 and 2018,” Dorey said. “We are grateful to Allan Benavides, Matt Dompe and the entire Eugene front office.”

Here’s what the Emeralds said today:

Cubs minor leaguers who don’t go to the four teams named above will wind up in a Rookie League squad at the Sloan Park complex in Mesa, Arizona. Mostly, those will be players who have “graduated” from the Dominican Summer League in previous seasons, plus possibly a few drafted players beginning their professional baseball careers.

Here are the affiliations for all MLB teams beginning in 2021:

The following 11 full-season teams did not receive invitations from MLB to continue:

Double-A: Jackson Generals (Southern), Trenton Thunder (Eastern)

High Class A: Charlotte Stone Crabs (Florida State), Florida Fire Frogs (Florida State), Frederick Keys (Carolina)

Low Class A: Burlington Bees (Midwest), Clinton LumberKings (Midwest), Hagerstown Suns (South Atlantic), Lexington Legends (South Atlantic), Kane County Cougars (Midwest), West Virginia Power (South Atlantic)

What will happen to those teams is anyone’s guess. It’s shocking that Kane County did not receive an invitation; they’ve regularly been near the top of attendance figures at their level and have had strong management. It’s been rumored that some of these teams might wind up in independent leagues, as some new affiliates (St. Paul for the Twins, for example) have been brought out of indy leagues.

It’s also unclear exactly how the Triple-A level will be organized. Previously, there were two leagues (Pacific Coast League and International League). There have been some rumblings that MLB might put these teams in three leagues of 10 teams each, arranged geographically.

Some minor-league affiliates apparently didn’t get notified personally:

My feeling is that none of this is good for the minor leagues or players. There will be far fewer players in any MLB organization — many had over 200 previously, now most will have only around 150. This, along with the draft shortened to 20 rounds from 40, will give fewer opportunities for guys who slipped in the draft to prove themselves. Those players will have to go to indy ball and try to prove themselves and get noticed by MLB scouts, but without an affiliation their chances of a MLB career are much smaller.

For those teams that have remained in MLB’s structure, little will change, presuming we have a “normal” 2021 season. But for others, this is something forced on them by Major League Baseball. It might be years before we know the full fallout of this decision by MLB to reorganize the minors.

As always, we await developments.