Somewhat lost in the shuffle of the NFL’s opening day festivities, ESPN.com updated its Future Power Rankings once again last Thursday. According to the site, “The scores and rankings are designed to reflect how well these clubs are set up for sustained success over the next five years.” Overall it painted an extremely bleak picture for the Brewers near-term future.
The rankings are compiled by a group of ESPN.com experts, who grade each team in five areas:
- Current MLB Roster
- Farm System
- Roster “Mobility” (taking into account things like age, contract status, etc.)
Without giving away too much since this is an “insider” product, they finished in the bottom third in each category and in the bottom five in three. Overall, they were ranked dead last in all of baseball for their outlook over the next five seasons. That is undoubtedly a tough pill to swallow, not just for Brewers fans but also for the management, if they bother to consider what outsiders think of their situation.
So Steve, without getting too specific and getting the guys at ESPN all upset at us for giving away their insider secrets, does this strike you as accurate and fair?
It’s ESPN, not the NSA. Let’s not worry about them getting too angry about a piece written specifically to get clicks. Really, they should have turned the list into a slideshow.
The Brewers ended up 30 out of 30 teams, and as Buster Olney notes, the “all-in” moves have given the club little roster flexibility. The list of 30 and over players starting next season includes Aramis Ramirez, Kyle Lohse, Nori Aoki, Marco Estrada, Rickie Weeks and Ryan Braun. That’s a significant portion of the clubhouse core that’s on the backside of their careers and doesn’t bode well for the major league roster moving forward if there isn’t a stacked farm system.
Milwaukee received a two out of a possible 30 for their minor league score. Scooter Gennett, Khris Davis and Johnny Hellweg have broken into the majors. Higher upside players Tyrone Taylor, Orlando Arcia, and Devin Williams are really young and have a long way to go before they can be considered future impact prospects. Help is not on the way.
Getting ranked 30th makes it look like a really dire situation in Milwaukee, and at the moment it isn’t looking good. Keep in mind a few things though. The Brewers will never receive high scores for finance and mobility. Buster Olney hates Ryan Braun which probably affected his major league roster ranking, and Keith Law has always been tough (not unfair, just a lower opinion than other publications) on the farm system. Some team was going to get ranked last and it just happened to be the Brewers. The Rockies, Marlins, White Sox and Brewers are the bottom four teams and could be listed in any order depending on the day.
Calling out Olney and Law for bias? Meow.
I suppose that Law has generally been a little lower on Brewers’ prospects than, say, Baseball America and Olney certainly has been among the leaders of the charge to “get” Ryan Braun. You’re not wrong that it’s probably going to shape their perceptions, though probably just a little.
I’m calling Olney biased, but just stating Law’s views versus publications like Baseball America and not making some judgement about his feelings towards the Brewers organization. I guess I’ll avoid nuance in the future if it’s too hard to comprehend.
Man, that’ll teach me to ever try and make a cheap joke at your expense again.
Anyway, I do tend to agree with you about that last point. It’s sort of a toss up down at the bottom, and I think some of those ranks are off. Having the Brewers with the fourth worst major league roster right now seems more than a little ungenerous. The farm being second worst in a world where both the White Sox and Angels systems exist is probably nonsense as well.
You also make a really good point about the structural disadvantages the Brewers face, especially in the finance department. Of course, that just means that they need to be better run than the average team just to be average, but no need to dwell on that too much. It was nice to see Law had good things to say about Tyrone Taylor, who is probably going to make quite a few top 100 lists.
Ultimately, though, I think the most telling thing about the ranking wasn’t that they had the Brewers 30th as opposed to, say, 25th or even 20th. It was how they compare with the rest of their division at this moment. The Cardinals came in at number one, and are basically held up as what they are: a model organization in nearly every way. The Cubs came in 6th on the strength of one of the very best farm systems in the game right now, plus they have incredible financial means and tons of flexibility. The Pirates were seventh, with really only the finance aspect keeping them out of the top five organizations in baseball. The Reds were 17th, based largely on their strong major league roster and not being horrible in any of the five other categories.
They may be really wrong about the Brewers current standing. Management could pull a series of rabbits out of their collective hats and things could get better in something like a hurry. One or two of the teams ahead of them could turn out to be mirages and fall flat on their faces. Even if all of that is true, it’s hard to imagine the Brewers seriously challenging for more than a potential one-game, wild card play-in. There are just too many good, well run teams ahead of them to climb over in any given year.
Is that being too negative or uncharitable and what should they do about this?
I don’t think it’s negative when it’s the reality of the situation. Let’s be realistic, running the team in “win now” mode every season will eventually get it to the point where they feature old expensive talent that was probably compiled by cashing in the farm system. I’m not against the Brewers flipping assets to better talent like they did by acquiring Zack Greinke. They need to take into account where that will put the club in the future and how they’re going to replenish talent once those short-term pieces bolt for bigger paychecks.
Ownership has handcuffed baseball operations by selling fans on the idea that this team can always compete and put three million butts in the seats. It sounds good, especially when the top farm system from a decade ago turns out the amount of talent they have through the years. That’s a relatively rare occurrence though. Attendance is going to ebb and flow. Building around progressively older talent is going to mean the infrastructure will collapse at some point. Are fans going to be more forgiving when a team takes a step back and wins only 75 games, or when they’re required to rebuild from scratch and field a team that’s lucky to win 60?
You’re right, and I think they’ve basically gotten to that tipping point, or at least close to it. Teams in markets like the Milwaukee who do have success nearly always do so behind a group of young players still in the cost-controlled phase of their careers. The current Oakland club notwithstanding, most teams have to assemble the majority of those players through the draft and international free agent signings.
The Brewers quite simply don’t have a large supply of young players who project as stars, though they do have a reasonable number who may be useful big leaguers, given time to develop. They’ll need a good number of guys like Khris Davis, Scooter Gennett, Hunter Morris, Jimmy Nelson, Tyler Thornburg and Johnny Hellweg to significantly outplay what the current industry consensus says about them if they’re going to even compete in the short term. Hoping for that sort of thing isn’t really a plan, it’s wishful thinking, even if it is technically possible.
I’m not unsympathetic to the idea of trying to maintain the appearance of winning to try and prop up attendance and general fan interest. When you’re in a market like this one, it’s a lot harder to take for granted those sources of revenue you do have, like the Cubs are doing in their “all things must go” rebuild effort. Maintaining revenue streams has to at least be really tempting. The problem is that eventually, like you said, chances are really good that the team is going to have to rebuild anyway.
Given the team’s lack of apparent stars in the farm system and the competition that appears to be inevitable in the division over the next half decade, it really seems like now is a good time for the club to take a step back and rebuild. It’s never a pleasant process having to trade off proven major leaguers for young prospects en masse. The newspapers and radio yakkers tend to have lots of nasty things to say when a team makes those types of moves. Sometimes, though, a team just has to ignore those things and focus on actually winning sometime down the line instead of trying to sell increasingly small actual chances to win.
Trading off veterans like Ramirez, Aoki, Lohse, Gallardo and even Carlos Gomez helps a rebuilding effort in multiple ways. It’s not just that they’ll probably be able to get some useful young players for them, but just simply taking them away from the roster helps to lose. Losing isn’t fun, but in the current draft/international system, it’s the best and perhaps only way to add large amounts of young star talent over the course of a few years. There are no guarantees that it will work, the team still has to make the right choices, but at least it’s a plan with some sort of chance for success.
The only real questions left at this point are whether or not the Brewers see things in this light and, if they do, can they bring themselves to throw up the white flag on the last rebuild and start a new one? My gut says no, they’re not, but I hope they at least can avoid making the hole any bigger by trading off some of the young players they do have.