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The Cleveland Indians took a major step toward ending their 14-year affiliation with the Buffalo Bisons on Friday when the teams jointly announced they will not pursue an extension of their player development contract until after the season is over.

The Herd and Tribe are in the final year of their current PDC and the Bisons want to extend it. But it's widely believed in baseball circles the Indians will not re-sign with Buffalo and will place their Triple-A team in the new downtown ballpark in Columbus, Ohio. Major and minor league clubs are not allowed to negotiate with new potential affiliates until mid-September.

Friday's inaction is significant because the last four extensions of the PDC between the Bisons and Indians have all come on Buffalo's Opening Day. But unlike 1998, 2000, 2002 and 2006, there was no such announcement this year as the Bisons opened another home season.

On the field, the news was also bad as the Bisons were held to just two hits in a 4-1 loss to the Toledo Mud Hens before an announced crowd of 11,283 in rainy Dunn Tire Park.

"Our primary focus and commitment there is, as it always is, to maintain the best product on the field for the fans of Buffalo and for our focus of developing major league players," Indians General Manager Mark Shapiro said Friday at Progressive Field prior to the Tribe's game against Oakland.

"Our primary feeling about Buffalo is that they've been an outstanding long-term partner. We could not have asked for a more supportive and professional group of people to work with. All we said today is under the guidelines of player development contracts, Major League Baseball and the National Association [the governing body of the minors], we're going to wait until the end of the season before we further pursue solidifying that agreement or explore [going] elsewhere."

The Bisons, meanwhile, issued an e-mail statement prior to their game. It included attachments detailing memos from the National Association reminding teams that public statements about affiliation changes are prohibited.

"Our player development contract with the Cleveland Indians is in effect through this season and we are looking forward to working with them to provide our fans with another competitive team to cheer for," the statement read. "The Bisons remain committed to providing our fans with the best possible sports and family entertainment experience at every event this season and for many seasons to come.

"We recognize that having a strong major league partner is important to our success and we will address our future major league affiliation at the completion of this season, in accordance with the timetable set forth in the professional baseball agreement."

Bisons officials said the team would have no further comment.
The Buffalo-Cleveland marriage has been the best in Triple-A baseball since the Indians signed with the Herd to begin the 1995 season. In fact, it has been perhaps the golden era on the field in the Bisons' 123-year history.

While linked with Cleveland, the Bisons have won three league championships (1997, 1998, 2004), seven division titles and have qualified for the playoffs nine times in 13 seasons. The Indians, meanwhile, have been loaded with former Buffalo players and coaches while winning seven American League Central titles, playing in the 1995 and 1997 World Series and coming within one win of the Fall Classic last season.

While it's a long way to September, among the Bisons' top options for a new parent team are the Toronto Blue Jays, New York Mets or Washington Nationals. All of them have expiring PDCs and are not expected to return to their current homes (Syracuse, New Orleans and Columbus, respectively). Pittsburgh, another possibility, re-signed with Indianapolis this week through 2012.

e-mail: mharrington@buffnews.com