In November 2020, Peter Davis, proud proprietor of the Missoula PaddleHeads, was two years into life as a minor league baseball owner when disaster struck.
The PaddleHeads, who had been a farm team for the Arizona Diamondbacks, were now "de-affiliated," one of 43 teams jettisoned into life as an independent club. The Diamondbacks had been responsible for paying PaddleHeads players and coaches, and that money was now gone. As was the financial value that came with owning an affiliated team.
"We'd lost all the equity. Disappeared overnight," Davis says. "We had no clue what we were going to do at that point."
But the PaddleHeads learned they could swim. They stayed in the Pioneer League, newly independent for the 2021 season, and won the championship.
"We had a great season, and we had a blast doing it," Davis says. "You really were hamstrung as an affiliated team … yes, we loved being an independent team."
In 2020, before realignment, ESPN spoke to dozens of minor league officials, many of whom predicted disaster as MLB moved to reduce the number of affiliated teams from 160 to 120, four for each major league club. Recently, we reached out to more than 50 teams to see how they fared — especially those teams that lost affiliation.
For some clubs, the reconfiguration was indeed a disaster. Eight teams that lost affiliation either folded altogether or did not play in 2021 (one because of an unfinished stadium), and some of those teams are suing MLB for breach of contract and tortious interference. Officials from teams that remained affiliated expressed general satisfaction, although some said they wouldn't air gripes publicly for fear of angering Major League Baseball.