Thoughts about Ryan Braun

I've been thinking about it all day, and I don't think it's very possible to do a rational analysis of the Ryan Braun extension. I love Ryan Braun. He's the face of the franchise and he's been an incredibly successful hitter in his short major league career (with a lot of hope for long-term improvement, as I'll argue later).

I have no problem with the deal. Here's the breakdown, from the always helpful Cot's Baseball Contracts:

2011: $4 mil, 2012: $6 mil, 2013: $8.5 mil, 2014: $10 mil, 2015: $12 mil, 2016: $19 mil, 2017: 19 mil, 2018: $19 mil, 2019: $18 mil, 2020: $16 mil

There's also apparently a significant amount of deferred money in the deal, which makes a lot of sense for both sides. I'm not going to speculate on dollar figures but it seems they could develop a scheme to pay Braun less than what he's actually guaranteed in those peak years of 2016-2018 to allow the Brewers to have some salary flexibility. That's a factor being overlooked by some critical of this deal already. Management of this club isn't dumb, and it makes sense that they could get that concession from Braun in exchange for making this deal now. In addition, the fact that the deal is frontloaded is very rare but makes sense for the Brewers. Usually teams making long-term deals by getting better production at lower salaries at the front end and higher salaries with worse production at the back end. That's another concession Braun made here. 

That's the main criticism of this deal that I've heard-- why do it now? The current deal ran through 2015 anyways, the Brewers had Braun's prime years locked up at extremely great rates. The criticism says that the deal is being evaluated by us as 10 years, $145 million, when we shouldn't include the first 5 years in the evaluation.

That's a legitimate criticism, and "why now?" is valid. If the Brewers could get this same deal in 2014, they'd have a lot more certainty about Braun and an extension would make a lot of sense. But there's a possibility that this deal isn't on the table in 2013/2014. Braun's taking a bit of a risk that he couldn't get more on the free agent market after 2015. But that's why this deal was made-- there's risk on both sides. And when you factor in the cost certainty the Brewers get, the cost certainty, and the simple assurance to the fans that the best player is practically a Brewer life-- it makes sense why they did this. It's not a bargain deal or anything, but it's a solid one. 

Final point on the contract. The Fangraphs analysis says basically that the Brewers are betting on a good bit of salary inflation within baseball, that $19 million in 2016 through 2018 will be worth significantly less than it is now. That's ignoring the simple fact that U.S. inflation of the dollar is about 2% a year (with indications it could rise a bit if the economy shows better growth in this next 10 years-- a good bet). Those $19 million nominal salaries could look something like $14-16 million in today's dollars, or even less. I think I'll take my chances with that. 

Final point about Braun: I am phenomenally excited to see what kind of hitter Braun is going to become. He's not exactly reliant on his patient eye at the plate and ability to take walks at this point in his career. .308/.367/.557 is a fantastic line, but it's not reliant on the .100+ point difference in average and OBP like other elite hitters, such as Fielder, have. Despite that, he's the eighth best hitter in the major leagues overall going forward right now (Prince Fielder is fifth, by the way). Meanwhile, his walk rate is slowly increasing, and I think there's a good chance his career trajectory will find him becoming more and more patient, and a more and more productive hitter. Braun's been great so far in his career, but hasn't topped the 5-WAR mark in his career. I think we might see an explosion in the middle and later parts of his prime as he really becomes an even more elite hitter. This might be one of those years: check out his walk rate chart. His first season was around 5%, second around 6%, then 8%, 8%, and this year all the way up to 18% so far. It's an encouraging trend and not out of the question that Braun's going to improve even from the eighth-best hitter in the game. 

Then there's defense as well. Braun is... pretty bad in left field. But maybe the long-term plans say that Braun is destined for first base, but that's something we don't know at this point. But the fact that he's an athletic guy won't hurt his cause. 

Bottom line, I'm excited about the deal. Ryan Braun is a Brewer for the next 10 years, at pretty reasonable salaries all things considered. And that's cause for celebration. 

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