More affiliation talk for you: Even with Cubs owner Tom Ricketts speaking at a luncheon hosted by the Kane County Cougars (Low Class A; Midwest League) at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark, the two sides haven't extended their affiliation deal, due to expire at the end of the season.
That lack of an extension -- coming at a time when plenty of extensions are being announced -- may mean the two sides won't be affiliated come 2015. Indeed, there are plenty of whispers in Midwest League front offices that a Cubs/Kane County renewal is far from a sure thing.
There are two reasons why MLB teams affiliate: to partner with an MiLB team that will provide the best-possible environment for players, and to take advantage of any marketing help that can be provided on the MiLB level. The Minnesota Twins, for example, say a new affiliation deal in 2013-2014 with the Cedar Rapids Kernels (Low Class A; Midwest League) opened up new marketing possibilities in Iowa. And proximity isn't as important as you might think, however: for example, the Boston Red Sox have a great relationship with the Portland Sea Dogs (Class AA; Eastern League) that will continue through to 2018, despite many opportunities to partner with an Eastern League team much closer than Portland, Maine.
For the Cubs, having the Cougars as an affiliate isn't a crucial relationship: the Cubs do just fine in the western Chicago suburbs, especially with the White Sox having no minor-league presence in the region. (The White Sox centralize player development in the South, most notably with several MiLB affiliations in North Carolina.) So if marketing isn't a huge consideration for the Cubs, then the emphasis needs to be on the other reason for affiliation: fostering a good environment for player development. And the decision needs to be made by the Cubs front office as to whether Kane County is a good place for player development or whether the facilities and front office are better elsewhere. The Cougars have a different ownership structure now, with Dr. Bob Froehlich now the lead owner and Mike Murtaugh and Mike Woleben scaling back on their ownership and team commitments. And Ricketts spoke highly of the Cougars/Cubs partnership, though he pointedly refused to comment on an extension:
"We’ve had a great experience with Kane County," Ricketts said. "I like Dr. Bob a lot. I like the facility; we like the organization. It’s not really my decision. I’ll leave that up to [president Theo Epstein and senior vice president of player development and amateur scouting Jason McLeod] as to what they want to do, but it’s been a good relationship."
Froehlich, who bought the Cougars earlier this season, said maintaining a relationship with the Cubs was his top priority.
"We’re in discussions, but that will run its course," Froehlich said. "This is a facility that you really have to experience, then you get a feel for the venue and what we have. I figured that he hasn’t been here, so this is a good time to come out."
Now, if the Cubs were to indeed leave a Kane County affiliation, there are other options. It's no secret the Cubs front office met with the Fort Wayne TinCaps two years ago before signing with the Cougars, and the TinCaps' current affiliation with the San Diego Padres ends at the end of 2014. And we're not entirely sure the Cubs are essential to the Cougars: after the Cubs left an affiliation with the Peoria Chiefs, attendance at Chiefs game actually rose 11 percent in 2013, while attendance this season is down some 8 percent for the Cougars. A Cougars game is still an event, but we're guessing sprucing up the fan spaces would do a lot more for attendance than would an extension of the Cubs affiliation.
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