Chicago fans weren’t the only ones to get worked up over this week’s news that the Cubs may have already agreed to move their low Class A affiliation from Peoria to Kane County in the Midwest League, and will sign a player-development contract with the Cougars when the affiliation shuffle begins in September.
The Chicago Sun-Times’ story also caught the attention of Minor League Baseball president Pat O’Conner. Normally a fan of promoting anything and everything related to the minor leagues, O’Conner would rather not have seen this story in print. If the Sun-Times’ report is accurate, it means Kane County and the Cubs could be guilty of tampering.
According to the Professional Baseball Agreement—the rules that guide the relationship between Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball—teams can discuss new affiliations only during a two-week open period that begins on Sept. 16. Any contact before then is prohibited, as is any public comment on other teams’ affiliates.
Asked when Minor League Baseball might open an investigation into possible tampering, O’Conner responded: “As soon as that article hit my desk . . . As soon as we were aware of it, we started to look into it.”
The PBA outlines in detail how and when major and minor league teams can pursue new player-development contracts. They’re free to renew existing deals at any time. Once the minor league regular season concludes, teams have until Sept. 11 to inform either MLB or MiLB that they intend to seek a new affiliation. From Sept.12-15, the central offices provide their clubs a list of teams seeking new affiliations. Beginning on Sept. 16, teams have 15 days to negotiate a new deal.
“There is a process that is designed to make it as competitively balanced and as fair as possible,” O’Conner said. “If you do have these guys jumping the gun and essentially cheating, then the system’s competitive balance and credibility are out the window.”
The secretive nature of the affiliation shuffle leads to plenty of speculation throughout the season about who is going where, and it’s not unusual for teams to have arrangements in place before the affiliation shuffle kicks off. If Kane County and the Cubs do end up together, their biggest mistake appears to be letting the news slip in advance.
“We don’t take any of it lightly,” O’Conner said.
Tampering penalties include a fine of $500,000 for a major league team and up to $100,000 for a minor league team, according to the PBA. O’Conner said he has contacted Kane County officials and commissioner Bud Selig’s office regarding the Cubs.
The end of August often brings a rush of affiliation extensions, and a pair of long-term partners extended their deals earlier this week.
The Padres and high Class A Lake Elsinore (California) extended their player-development contract two years through the 2014 season. The Phillies and low Class A Lakewood (South Atlantic) also agreed to a two-year extension. Both relationships date back to 2001.
See here for a complete listing of every team’s affiliation status.