How Do Yankees’ Affiliate Changes, MiLB League Movement Foretell Shifts in Cubs System?

Though it may have flown under the radar in light of other relatively major goings-on, word leaked out Friday about what affiliates the Yankees were going to have in 2021 and beyond. It was a bit of a head-turner to see them shift the upper parts of their system so dramatically. Gone are the Trenton Thunder (AA), Charleston RiverDogs (low-A), and Staten Island Yankees (short-season). In are the Somerset Patriots at (AA) and Hudson Valley Renegades (low-A).

Trenton used to be in the independent Atlantic League and Hudson Valley was the Yankees’ affiliate in the NY-Penn short-season league. It had my head spinning and got me thinking about what the Cubs’ system is going to look like next summer.

The Cubs have had the same five affiliates since 2015: Iowa Cubs (AAA), Tennessee Smokies (AA), Myrtle Beach Pelicans (high-A), South Bend Cubs (low-A), and Eugene Emeralds (short-season). Several things about that lineup are going to change as only four will remain, which most first though meant losing Eugene. That could still happen, but now it’s not likely after news broke this week.

Earlier this week, Ballpark Digest released which leagues were going to be at which levels of class A. 

California League
Florida State League
Sally League

Midwest League (SB Cubs)
Northwest League
Carolina League (Pelicans)
New Mid-Atlantic League

Short-season leagues are gone, which we knew would be the case, but this list had both the Midwest League and Carolina League at high-A. The Cubs obviously can’t have two teams at that level, so we already know something is going to have to change in their current configuration. They already left the Florida State League because of all the rainouts and double-headers and the California League would contradict MLB’s desire to reduce travel expenses.

It’s all a bit confusing because of the changes to both the affiliate structure and the leagues in which they play, leading to bigger changes than we first thought. So how do the Cubs work it out?

Considering that South Bend’s Andrew Berlin has a small ownership stake in the big league club, South Bend is going to remain in the system at some level. Odds are the SB Cubs remain in the Midwest League and move up to high-A ball.

Iowa has been with the Cubs since 1981 and it’s a relatively easy trip from Des Moines to Chicago for those players who may shuttle back and forth, so seeing the I-Cubs leave would be something of a shock. There’s been talk of the Pacific Coast League being split, so Iowa could be part of a league more central to the Midwest. Then again, Iowa could drop down and join the Midwest league, where they would play local teams like Quad Cities, Cedar Rapids, Peoria, and Beloit.

Tennessee might be the only safe squad that doesn’t shift levels, as they will probably remain in Double-A in the Southern League. There’s also been talk of building a new ballpark in downtown Knoxville, which would probably be a much better investment with the cachet of a popular team like the Cubs tied to it.

Myrtle Beach is in a bit of a quandary considering South Bend‘s relationship with the Cubs. If the Cubs go with a local Midwest League team at high-A, Myrtle Beach would have to shift levels. That could happen if the Pelicans move to the South Atlantic League, which would make sense if they want to keep the Cubs affiliation they’ve embraced so fully since coming aboard a few years ago.

We’ve known for a while that the minors were going to experience a big change in 2021 as roughly one-quarter of the total affiliates were eliminated, but now it’s becoming real and it’s still hard to wrap my head around. At this point, I just want 2020 to end so we can get on with things and figure out what’s going to happen.

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