Brewers’ Poor Farm System Has Unforeseen Consequences


Feb 18, 2014; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Milwaukee Brewers general manager Doug Melvin speaks to the media during MLB media day at Chase Field. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Most fans are familiar with the problems associated with consistently fielding a poor farm system: a paucity of young talent, a forced reliance on aging and expensive veterans, a scarcity of resources to use to make major league additions at the trade deadline, losing. But the Milwaukee Brewers just discovered a lesser known complication.

Last Thursday, the Nashville Sounds, the Brewers’ Triple-A affiliate since 2005, announced that they were severing ties with Milwaukee and signing a four year player development contract with the Oakland Athletics. On Tuesday, Suns owner Frank Ward declared the motives behind the switch.

“The biggest thing was winning,” Ward told the Tennessean’s Mike Organ “Let me just say that I have great respect for (Brewers general manager) Doug Melvin and everything he’s accomplished. But winning is very key to us and the A’s bring that to us after winning (Pacific Coast League) 11 division titles; they are committed to winning.”

The Suns won three North American Division titles with the Brewers, but haven’t claimed one since 2007. Since 2011, they have a winning percentage of .472 (272-304), bottoming out last season with a 57-87 record, the worst in the Pacific Coast League.

The height of their losing coincided with the nadir of the Brewers farm system. From 2011 to 2013, Milwaukee’s prospect collection ranked no higher than 23rd on Baseball America’s annual rankings. The record of a system’s clubs is not necessarily  indicative of its overall strength, but the former is often a fair barometer of the latter.

With the close of the minor league season earlier this month, BA listed every organization by the overall record and winning percentage of their affiliates. The top eight: the Mets, Diamondbacks, Rangers, Cardinals, Red Sox, Twins, Cubs and Astros. Not coincidentally,  in July’s Keith Law  ranked the Cubs, Twins, Astros, and Mets as having the best four farm systems in baseball.

Not that Oakland is currently flush with young talent. Ravaged by recent graduations and win-now trades, their farm system is actually one of baseball’s worst. But for much of the last decade, they have had one of the better ones, and their old affiliate, the Sacramento River Cats, reaped the rewards, with six straight Pacific South Division titles from 2007 to 2013 and a .568 winning percentage since 2000. There are also other ways to assure success at the Triple-A level, and the A’s annual crop of high-upside minor league free agents routinely endows its top affiliate with a slew of capable players.

Which Triple-A team is contracted by which major league club may seem of little importance to the casual fan, but it can actually prove pivotal over the course of a long major league season. Having an affiliate in Nashville, just two and a half hours by Plane from Milwaukee, allowed the Brewers to quickly recall a replacement in the event of a last-minute injury. The Brewers will now send their minor leaguers to Colorado Spring, Colorado, four hours away by plane. An hour and a half may sound inconsequential, but it could be the difference between playing the Pirates with a full-squad one night next season and playing a man down.