The pandemic that has shut down baseball for the time being is not only negatively impacting the major leagues, but the minor leagues are getting the shorter end of the stick.
Before the sports world came to a grinding halt, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred and Minor League Baseball were working on negotiating the next Professional Baseball Agreement, or PBA. This agreement governs the relationship between MiLB and MLB, and deals with the number of affiliated minor league teams, among other things.
Reports had surfaced quite a while ago that MLB was looking to downsize the number of affiliates, cutting some 42 franchises from across minor league baseball, including most of the teams in the Rookie-level Appalachian and Pioneer Leagues, as well as the New York-Penn League.
For the Milwaukee Brewers, only one affiliate was on the initial chopping block, and that was the Rookie-Level Rocky Mountain Vibes of the Pioneer League.
The Rocky Mountain Vibes
Not too long ago, the Rocky Mountain Vibes were known as the Colorado Springs Sky Sox and were the Triple-A affiliate of the Brewers. Initially, they were the Triple-A affiliate of the Colorado Rockies, which made sense as it helped prepare their prospects for playing in high altitude. But since the Rockies left that partnership, the Brewers ended up with them.
It was no secret that the Brewers did not like having their Triple-A franchise in Colorado Springs, and with MiLB realizing that it no longer made sense to have a Triple-A team in that altitude, the Sky Sox “moved” to San Antonio as the Double-A Missions moved up to Triple-A.
But Colorado Springs was not going to be completely without baseball as the Sky Sox became a Rookie-level team and rebranded as the Rocky Mountain Vibes for the 2019 season.
To sum up, the people in Colorado Springs went from Triple-A baseball of their in-state MLB franchise, to a Triple-A team of a different franchise, to now a Rookie-level affiliate, and now they might not have any baseball whatsoever.
Minor League Contraction
With the coronavirus pandemic putting thoughts of an MLB season in jeopardy, minor league baseball is in a more precarious position. MLB teams can survive one year without fans in attendance. However, minor league teams cannot. They are simply too dependent on ticket sales and having people in the ballpark to make money.
If fans are not allowed at sporting events, we most likely will not have minor league baseball this season, and with the PBA negotiations still underway, MiLB is now forced to accept MLB’s proposal to cut 42 franchises, according to reports.
Minor League Baseball could have some leverage and been able to force some more from MLB in negotiations and try to stave off contraction for this next PBA, but this pandemic has ended all hopes of that. With how much money they’ll lose this year, it’s the only option.
It stands to reason that the Vibes would still be on the chopping block as the negotiations on the PBA continue. If we don’t have a minor league season this year, and there’s a good chance we don’t, then we might have already seen the last of Rocky Mountain Vibes baseball as the next PBA would take effect starting with the 2021 season.
The Rest Of The Brewers Farm System
As far as other affiliates, the Brewers should still have the rest of them. There aren’t any Triple-A teams up for elimination. Double-A Biloxi just moved into a new ballpark a few years ago and they should be safe. High-A Carolina is owned by the Brewers now, and they won’t want that affiliate removed, and Low-A Wisconsin is very close to Milwaukee and is extremely valuable to the franchise.
It’s no secret that the Brewers Baseball Ops Department hasn’t exactly been thrilled with sending their pitchers to the high altitude of Colorado Springs over the past few years. Despite many fans loving the rebrand and Toasty, the mascot, the Vibes are the only team that make sense for the Brewers to give up, if it’s necessary that each franchise gives up at least one affiliate.
The Brewers will still have their Arizona League team for rookies that were just recently drafted, so they won’t have to send everyone to Low-A Wisconsin to start off.
It’s an unfortunate development for baseball, for everyone that loves minor league baseball, and especially for the fans in the cities of those 42 franchises that will likely be eliminated. There’s a very good chance that we’ve seen the last Rocky Mountain Vibes baseball game.
With the MLB Draft set for a far lower number of rounds this year, there won’t be as much of a need for rookie-level baseball, at least in 2020.