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Why the Brewers (and the Brevard County Manatees) will exit the Florida State League after 2016


Mass Haas
Brewer Fanatic Staff

Well, that's an eye-catching thread title, if nothing else.

 

DISCLAIMER: This in no way is an official press release from the Milwaukee Brewers, Brevard County Manatees, the Florida State League, or as you'll discern below, neither the Houston Astros nor the Washington Nationals.

 

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What this post is, however, is a connect-the-dots analysis that leads to one pretty clear conclusion - the Brewers' high-A team won't be the Brevard County Manatees in 2017, and it doesn't appear as though the Manatees will exist at all after this coming season.

 

We've been chronicling the status of the Manatees' home park in Viera, FL (Melbourne), Space Coast Stadium, since June of 2013, when it was becoming evident that the Washington Nationals were seeking a new spring training facility that would have greater proximity to other Florida locales, not to mention all the fancy bells and whistles a new complex would provide. At the same time, Manatees ownership was working diligently to find a new stadium plan for its minor league team, with the search focusing on the Orlando ties of its principal owner, orthopedic surgeon Dr. Tom Winters. At one point, a deal was actually in place to team up with Rollins College on a shared Orlando stadium, but that deal disintegrated.

 

Here at Brewerfan.net, we had become accustomed to collecting article links and news on the relationships between the parent club and its affiliates. There was a detailed thread on the status of aging Joe Davis Stadium in Huntsville, the Brewers' AA home since 1999. That discussion, which kicked off in earnest in September 2012, eventually had a happy ending with the Brewers securing a new AA home in Biloxi, Mississippi's beautiful MGM Park (after a 55-game road trip to begin 2015), and a player development contract relationship that currently extends through 2018. But we can all agree that before the happy ending in Biloxi there was a lot of misery in the final days in Huntsville. Milwaukee is bringing its big league club to Biloxi to close out the exhibition schedule, certainly as a way to say to Biloxi ownership, "thank you, now let's extend beyond 2018 as well, please".

 

Also in September of 2012, we kicked off a thread that followed the city of Nashville's struggles to replace aged Greer Stadium, the Brewers' AAA home since 2005. Nashville would eventually find a way to build and open beautiful First Tennessee Park in 2015, but the Brewers were left at the altar, as the Oakland Athletics would become the new tenants as Sounds' ownership sought a partner that would do a better job of providing winning baseball. The A's AAA squad was 66-78, by the way, which was still 3.5 games better than the Brewers' team in its new locale of Colorado Springs.

 

And believe it or not, we had to kick off another discussion this past January about a possible future relocation of the Sky Sox to San Antonio from Colorado Springs. It never seems to end for Brewers' affiliate drama (we'll link to all four of those threads at the bottom of this post).

 

Player Development Contract relationships (PDC's) always make for fun discussion and conjecture. Several web sites exist solely to maintain detailed up-to-the-minute news on these relationships throughout all levels of baseball. It's just that the Brewers' relationships have turned out to provide more entertainment value than most.

 

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So let's get back to the Brevard County Manatees.

 

Benjamin Hill of MiLB.com wrote a must-review article last week. We definitely ask you now to catch up on things by reading his work --

 

Batting Around: Florida ballpark news

West Palm Beach ballpark will alter Grapefruit League landscape

By Benjamin Hill / MiLB.com

 

OK, there is a lot to digest there. Not the least of which is the mention about the Blue Jays' and Braves' dissatisfaction with their spring training home situations, which could eventually (pure conjecture) lead to Milwaukee partnering up with one of those clubs on a dual Florida or Arizona tandem project. But let's not digress, we have an entirely separate thread dedicated to the Brewers' search for a spring training upgrade home.

 

The Brewers are entering their 12th year in Brevard County (wow, time flies). Prior to that, Milwaukee's High-A affiliate had always been in the California League, including a concluding four-year stretch in High Desert (2001-2004). FYI: the High-A level (Advanced A-Ball) was first established by MLB in 1990.

 

Milwaukee was thrilled to escape the Cal League in 2005, and the organization gladly assimilated into a Florida-based environment that was heavy on rain delays and light on attendance and offensive output, while saying goodbye to the rocket-fueled winds and wacky offensive atmosphere that was High Desert. In the final seasons in High Desert (Adelanto, CA), the organization would bypass many of its top prospects (especially pitching prospects) from the High-A level, to avoid subjecting them to Cal League conditions. This led to disjointed player assignments (not to mention lots of losses for the hometown Mavericks).

 

Even today, MLB parent clubs are not big fans of the California League. Organizations are allowed to extend Player Development Contracts in two- or four-year increments. As of today, of the ten Cal League affiliations, only San Jose (in perpetuity with the San Francisco Giants) is locked in beyond 2016. Otherwise, barring upcoming renewals, the nine other Cal League affiliations all expire after the coming season. That speaks volumes in and of itself.

 

As Benjamin Hill noted in the linked article above, eight of the twelve Florida State League teams are owned by their parent MLB organization. Only Charlotte (Tampa Bay through 2016), Daytona (Cincinnati through 2018), and Fort Myers (Twins through 2018) join Brevard County as privately owned teams. Charlotte and Fort Myers are the spring training homes of their clubs, respectively, so we wouldn't expect Milwaukee to pick up the Rays' Port Charlotte home for the 2017 Florida State League season (Tampa seems pretty happy there).

 

There is a third High-A league, the eight-team Carolina League, which from a baseball perspective, certainly plays more neutral than the extreme field conditions in either Florida or California. There has been quite a bit written about the possible (even likely) transfer of two Cal League affiliates to the Carolina League for the 2017 season (as you can read in this June 2015 piece via Ballpark Digest).

 

Currently, four Carolina League teams have affiliations, that barring upcoming renewals, will expire after 2016. They would be Carolina (Zebulon, NC - Braves); Myrtle Beach, SC (Cubs); Potomac (Woodbridge, VA - Nationals); and Wilmington, Delaware (Royals).

 

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OK, we know we've thrown a lot of info at you so far. Now let's see if we can bullet-point the puzzle pieces here regarding the Brewers and Manatees.

 

- The Manatees are basically in a lame-duck situation regarding their home ballpark. The U.S. Specialty Sports Association is taking over the Space Coast complex (article), and while the association's management indicates they'd be willing to work with the Manatees to keep them in Viera, it doesn't seem especially feasible.

 

- Meanwhile, the Astros and Nationals new $144 million West Palm Beach complex opens in January 2017.

 

- Houston is currently tied to an unappealing High-A affiliation in Lancaster, California, perhaps the most notorious of all the Cal League launching pads.

 

- Washington's High-A Potomac team has nice proximity for them in Virginia, but that ballpark is older and has undergone several upgrades in an effort to stay relatively modern (it is still described as "barely above amateur").

 

- Considering the Florida State League needs to maintain an even number of teams (naturally), if Brevard is indeed forced out due to "homelessness", either Houston or Washington (particularly Houston) would jump at the chance of establishing their High-A affiliate in their shiny new spring training home. Perhaps this has already been negotiated.

 

- There isn't a merry-go-round partner waiting in the Florida State League for Milwaukee, leaving only any potential opportunities in the eight-team or, as noted above, perhaps expanded ten-team Carolina League or (gulp), in the California League.

 

- Manatees' management has stripped down for 2016, eliminating its media broadcast staff. It's understandable that the franchise is prepping for the 2016 campaign with all its promotions and such, but an apathetic local media has barely taken note of the team's lame duck status. The Manatees' longtime GM recently moved on (related or not).

 

- The Florida State League would need to re-align their divisions (North / South), it would seem, but that is a relatively minor point.

 

- One thing we don't know is how Manatees ownership would be compensated for the loss of its franchise -- messy, but that's for others to determine.

 

- It should be noted that if Milwaukee ever did land a new spring training home in Florida, it would almost certainly require an expansion of the number of teams in the Florida State League for the Brewers to also be able to call that the home of their High-A club (continued dismantling of the Cal League?). That's a ways off, obviously.

 

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The Brewers have enjoyed their Brevard County tenure, it seems -- fine quality facility and proximity to its AA club.

 

It certainly appears followers of the organization will need to prep for late night box scores from the West Coast (or hopefully a Carolina League affiliation) for 2017-2018.

 

Ironically, if one projects out the talent flow right now, the Brewers' 2017 High-A club should be absolutely loaded, maybe a nice selling point as the affiliation dance plays out this summer.

 

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If you stayed with this post this far, you'll want to review the various threads we referred to earlier, particularly the Brevard County one (strongly suggested), which includes links to the Huntsville and Nashville threads. The Colorado Springs thread can be found here.

 

Finally, here's your link to the complete current status of all PDC's across MiLB.

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What a mess. Maybe it's unavoidable, but it just seems the Brewers keep putting themselves in horrible positions with their affiliates and have to go into scramble mode every time. Nashville wasn't much of a shock, they should have been prepared. Brevard, they saw this coming for years. Now they're struggling with what to do with their Spring Training facilities. (And AAA still isn't "fixed."

 

From everything you're saying, and what I've read in the past, I would prefer they end up in the Carolina League. It scares me to think both AAA and A+ teams will be playing in CA.

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What a mess. Maybe it's unavoidable, but it just seems the Brewers keep putting themselves in horrible positions with their affiliates and have to go into scramble mode every time. Nashville wasn't much of a shock, they should have been prepared. Brevard, they saw this coming for years. Now they're struggling with what to do with their Spring Training facilities. (And AAA still isn't "fixed."

 

From everything you're saying, and what I've read in the past, I would prefer they end up in the Carolina League. It scares me to think both AAA and A+ teams will be playing in CA.

 

Well, AAA is Colorado Springs, but same difference. Is there any way we could get everything in the SE-ish US (besides Appleton)? We have Biloxi and hopefully we have them for a long time, get something in Carolina. Grrrrr, AAA Nashville would be perfect. Helena will just have to be all the way across the country.

Formerly Uecker Quit Usingers
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Well, AAA is Colorado Springs, but same difference. Grrrrr, AAA Nashville would be perfect.

 

They WERE in Nashville prior to CO Springs, that's what I was alluding to in my post. They basically got kicked out after their contract was up.

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I don't think Attansio has been cheap in his ownership of the club, but it'd be really nice if he would take some of the 40-60 million he is saving in big league payroll this year and solve the situation. As far as his speech about "nothing standing in the way of the world series", a development environment with an average of 14 runs and 3 dingers a game would seem to be an obstacle.
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