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Volume 22 No. 43
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Safe at home: MiLB affiliation upheaval eases

Minor League Baseball this month will likely see one of the lightest rounds of team reaffiliation periods in the organization’s history.

Major and minor league teams are allowed to seek new affiliate partners each September in even-numbered years, and the 2016 period running through Sept. 30 is not expected to produce any changes at the Class AAA level, and perhaps fewer than 10 overall. During the 2014 cycle, six teams in the Class AAA Pacific Coast League and 21 minor league clubs in total changed affiliate partners, fairly consistent with other reaffiliation cycles historically.

The Nashville Sounds were one of six Pacific Coast League teams that switched MLB affiliations during the busy 2014 cycle.
After more than a decade of vigorous change in the affiliated minors, driven by new facilities, increased co-marketing efforts, geography and several other factors, MLB and MiLB have now settled into a period of greater mutual satisfaction.

“These partnerships always operate a bit like a marriage. But I’m expecting an especially light process this time around,” MiLB President Pat O’Conner said. “While the situations are never necessarily perfect, I get the sense that teams know what they have, and are generally satisfied.”

The affiliated minor leagues continue to take on greater importance to the parent MLB clubs in terms of player development, marketing and sources of media content. Several MLB clubs have also sought to group their minor league affiliates in tighter geographic clusters, yielding benefits with regard to travel, marketing and, in some cases, joint ticket and sponsorship sales.

The final run-up to the current reaffiliation period saw renewals of existing agreements that included the Philadelphia Phillies and their Class AAA affiliate in Lehigh Valley, Pa., through the 2020 season, and the New York Mets and their Class AAA affiliate in Las Vegas through the 2018 season.

“A preponderance of the current relationships are working extremely well,” said Pacific Coast League President Branch Rickey. “Teams always weigh their options at these points, as they have the right to do, but I would expect things to be quieter.”

Before the reaffiliation period, some significant changes occurred at the Class A level. MiLB last month announced a realignment in which the Bakersfield Blaze and High Desert Mavericks of the California League are folding at the end of the 2016 season, driven heavily by facility issues in both markets.

The Carolina League will add two clubs. One franchise is confirmed for Kinston, N.C., and a second remains under consideration, with Fayetteville, N.C., a likely candidate. The Kinston, N.C., team will be owned by the Texas Rangers, which had an affiliation with High Desert.

The Seattle Mariners, which had been affiliated with Bakersfield, are expected to stay in the California League with the Modesto Nuts, which will prompt some affiliation changes at the Class A level.