The Cubs appear to be positioned as well as any team in the majors to avoid dramatic changes in their farm system regardless of the final version of Major League Baseball’s plan to eliminate 25 percent of affiliated minor league teams across the baseball map.
None of the Cubs’ six affiliates are on a leaked list of 42 teams to be cut, which is “not surprising at all,” said Matt Dorey, the Cubs’ senior director for player development.
“I’d be actually shocked if any of our teams did appear on that initial list just because they’re so good,” he added, citing elite-level weight rooms, fields, clubhouses and overall stadium amenities that either were the results of upgrades in recent years or changes in minor-league affiliations.
“They answered the bell any time we’ve ever had a request, and more times than not they’re doing it without direction from us,” he said. “It’s amazing how much investment in resources they’ve made to put our players in the best position to develop.”
The year-long push by MLB to reduce the number of minor-league affiliates to a total of 120 got an ugly assist from the economic straits created by the coronavirus pandemic, with MiLB softening its position and willing to agree to cuts, according to reports ahead of a scheduled conference call Wednesday with MLB to continue negotiations on a new Professional Baseball Agreement (PBA).
Under the plan pushed by MLB, short-season rookie leagues would be eliminated with each of the 30 major-league teams left with four full-season affiliates from Class A, Advanced-A, AA and AAA.
For some of the 120 remaining teams, leagues, affiliations and/or classifications would be adjusted primarily for geography.
The Cubs have a four-decade relationship with AAA Iowa, a strong relationship with AA Tennessee (the 2011 minor-league team of the year), upgraded their advanced-A facilities with a move in recent years to Myrtle Beach (S.C.) and have a relationship with one of the top Class A teams in baseball in South Bend (the 2015 minor league team of the year and Ballpark Digest’s top ballpark in its class in 2017).
If anything, South Bend is a team that might look attractive enough to move up in classification for the quality of its facilities and location. But even with three Midwest League teams on the list for possible elimination, that league appears more stable than some others, with the SB Cubs likely staying as is.
“I don’t see any changes for the South Bend Cubs,” said team owner Andrew Berlin, who also owns a stake in the big-league Cubs. “We have a great relationship with the Chicago Cubs, and I see our future as being very bright.”
“I think we’ll be OK. But I never take anything for granted,” he said.
As negotiations continue, MiLB isn’t ready to give up the fight to prevent the cuts, at least publicly, releasing a statement ahead of Wednesday’s talks suggesting inaccuracies in some of the reports on the contraction plan.
“There have been no agreements on contraction or any other issues,” the statement said. “MiLB looks forward to continuing the good faith negotiations with MLB [Wednesday] as we work toward an agreement that best ensures the future of professional baseball throughout the United States and Canada.”
The parent company that owns the Cubs’ affiliate in Tennessee also owns three rookie-level teams (Johnson City Cardinals, Greeneville Reds, Elizabethton Twins) on the list of cuts, and hopes to preserve their affiliation status.
And the same goes for Midwest League president Dick Nussbaum and the Beloit Snappers, Burlington Bees and Clinton Lumberkings on the chopping block from his league.
“There a lot of moving parts right now,” Nussbaum said. “I think minor league baseball has taken the position we want to keep all of our teams, and I certainly want to keep all of my 16 teams in the Midwest League. And there are a lot of discussions how that may or may not play out. I’m very anxious, and very hopeful that cooler heads will prevail.”
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