Sources: Cubs may not renew affiliation with Cougars
The Kane County Cougars were traveling home Sunday as champions of the Midwest League.
Will they return next year as an affiliate of the Chicago Cubs?
The two-year player-development agreement between the Cubs and Cougars expired Sept. 11, and sources say it's 50-50 whether the Cubs will renew with the Cougars for 2015 and beyond.
The South Bend Silver Hawks of the Midwest League recently ended their relationship with the Arizona Diamondbacks, and the South Bend Tribune reported the team has been granted permission to pursue a relationship with another major-league team.
That team could be the Cubs, according to sources. Major and minor league teams are not permitted to talk publicly about changes in affiliations, under penalty of heavy fines, until Tuesday, when a two-week negotiation window opens for clubs and unattached affiliations.
The Cubs are taking a close look at all of their minor league affiliates. They recently ended their agreement with Class A Boise of the short-season Northwest League. They're also evaluating their relationship with Daytona of the Class A Florida State League.
The Cougars on Saturday swept their way to the Midwest League title by winning 7-2 at Lake County (Ohio). It was the second championship in Kane County history. The first came in 2001, when the Cougars were an affiliate of the Florida Marlins. Between the regular season and postseason, this year's Cougars put up a record of 98-49.
At the crux of whether the Cubs will stay in Kane County or move -- to South Bend or anywhere else -- are the facilities and how they affect the development of Cubs players. The Cougars, since their inception in 1991, have played their home games in Geneva at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark. Sources say the Cubs are happy with the location of the ballpark and its proximity to Chicago, but they would like to see upgrades to the facility.
The Kane County franchise was purchased this season by Dr. Bob Froehlich and his wife, Cathy. On Sept. 2, the Cougars announced a capital-improvement project to modernize Fifth Third Bank Ballpark as they prepare to celebrate their 25th season in Kane County.
"The Cougars will be constructing a new batting cage built to the Cubs' specifications, complete with two hitting tunnels," according to a news statement released by the team. "The climate-controlled cage will also house an expanded Cougars' weight room and a state-of-the-art video room, allowing convenient access for Cougars and Cubs field staff to develop and evaluate players.
"Also for next season, a new, high-definition videoboard will be installed at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark, providing an enhancement of the in-game fan experience with various promotions, game action, video replays and more."
The South Bend Silver Hawks also are beginning major renovations to their ballpark, including expanded batting and pitching facilities.
The Cubs began their partnership with Kane County for the 2013 season, leaving Peoria. When the agreement with Kane County was announced, the Cubs sold it as a convenient location for their staff to evaluate prospects and for major-league players to have a nearby option for injury rehabilitation assignments. During this year's playoffs, Cubs infielder Mike Olt rehabbed a hamstring injury while playing for the Cougars.
The added benefit for both the Cubs and Cougars was that many Cubs fans reside in the West suburbs. This season, the Cougars drew 415,571 fans, an average of 6,023 per game. That was second in the Midwest League to Dayton, which drew 573,709. Historically, the Cougars have been a strong draw, no matter the affiliation. In 2005 and in 2006, the Cougars topped 500,000 in attendance.
In addition to the Cubs and Marlins, the Cougars have been affiliated with the Baltimore Orioles, Oakland Athletics and Kansas City Royals.
After Saturday's championship-clinching victory, the Cougars issued this statement on their website:
"On behalf of the Kane County Cougars organization, we'd like to congratulate the entire team, field staff and Cubs organization for capping off an unforgettable season by winning the Midwest League Championship," Dr. Bob Froehlich said. "Tonight's championship win was the culmination of a season that was filled with terrific on-field play, coaching and perhaps most importantly, a truly unified team."
Cougars historyThe Kane County Cougars' two-year Player Development Contract with the Chicago Cubs has expired, and the two sides have not announced a new deal. Here's a glance at the Kane County's affiliation history as a low Class A team, and some recently announced improvement plans slated for Fifth Third Ballpark in Geneva:
Cougars' affiliates:1991-92: Baltimore Orioles
1993-2002: Florida Marlins
2003-10: Oakland Athletics
2011-12: Kansas City Royals
2012-14: Chicago Cubs
Fifth Third Ballpark construction plans:• A new batting cage
• Two new hitting tunnels in a climate-controlled area
• Expanded weight room
• State-of-the-art video room
• High-definition videoboard for in-game replays
• A premium seating area in the lower bowl with wait service for individuals or groups
• A permanent music pavilion for a Ballpark Concert Series
-- Bruce Miles