Updated with a comment from Lookouts co-owner John Woods at 3 p.m. on Dec. 9, 2020.
The Chattanooga Lookouts are officially off Major League Baseball's chopping block.
Major League Baseball extended invitations Wednesday to 120 minor league teams, and the Lookouts were welcomed to remain as the Class AA affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds. Professional baseball in Chattanooga dates back to 1885, and the Lookouts have been members of the Southern League since 1976.
"We are thrilled to receive an invitation from the Cincinnati Reds that would keep affiliated baseball in the community," Lookouts co-owner Jason Freier said. "We would like to thank the Cincinnati Reds for their continued partnership and their commitment to Chattanooga. We are also grateful to the Chattanooga community and Lookouts fans for their outstanding and steadfast support."
The Reds also retained Louisville as their Triple-A affiliate, as well as Dayton in high Single-A and Daytona in Single-A.
Chattanooga had been listed as a potential MLB contraction casualty in November 2019 in a New York Times article, but Wednesday's news did not come as a surprise. The Times Free Press reported early last month that Rob Wooten, a former Milwaukee Brewers pitcher, posted on Twitter that he had been named pitching coach for the Lookouts for the 2021 season.
The 2021 season will mark the 24th year of affiliation between the Reds and the Lookouts. The teams signed a two-year player development contract following the 2018 season after having spent 21 years as partners from 1988 to 2008.
In between, the Lookouts were affiliated with the Los Angeles Dodgers (2009-14) and the Minnesota Twins (2015-18). Chattanooga won Southern League titles in 2015 and 2017, the first for the franchise since 1988.
"The Lookouts and the city of Chattanooga have been wonderful partners over the years and a great steppingstone for the future generation of Reds players," Reds vice president and general manager Nick Krall said.
Lookouts co-owner John Woods was quick to credit Freier, the CEO of Hardball Capital who also operates the Fort Wayne (Indiana) TinCaps and the Columbia (South Carolina) Fireflies. Fort Wayne will remain affiliated with the San Diego Padres, while Columbia is now partnered with the Kansas City Royals after having been with the New York Mets.
"I want everyone in this city to understand that Jason saved the Lookouts in continuing to be affiliated with MLB," Woods said. "We were toast. I've been involved in every conversation, and we were out.
"He worked 12-hour days to save us."
Among the notable Reds players to have come through Chattanooga are National Baseball Hall of Fame reliever Trevor Hoffman, 2010 National League MVP Joey Votto and former two-sport standout Deion Sanders, who is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The coronavirus pandemic prevented the Lookouts from having a 2020 season at AT&T Field, and the 2021 schedule has yet to be released.
"We look forward to the resumption of baseball at AT&T Field," Lookouts president Rich Mozingo said. "We'll approach the 2021 season with extreme care and consideration. Every event at AT&T Field will put the health and safety of our fans, guests, staff and players first.
"We're hopeful that between now and opening day that we'll see tremendous strides taken towards returning to some level of normalcy. Whatever the situation, when it's time to play ball, we'll be ready as a staff and as a facility."
The Atlanta Braves on Wednesday announced they would have Gwinnett as their Triple-A affiliate, Mississippi in Double-A, Rome in high Single-A and Augusta in Single-A. Rome moves up from Single-A, while Augusta is new to the Braves' farm system.