Ryan Braun has missed the last two games, and he'll miss at least one more. There's not a lot of clarity about his health situation--he sounds optimistic he'll be back on the field in a few days, but it's possible that his problems run deeper. I can't get too interested in the details of injuries, so I'll leave that part of it up to those who want to hash it out.
But it does open up some questions we really didn't want to be asking. What if Braun heads to the DL? What if he's out for the season (or a substantial part of it)?
Obviously, any extended absence is a serious blow to the lineup. Not only is Braun one of the best hitters on the team--he leads Brewers regulars with a 137 OPS+--but the rest of the lineup looks a little more toothless without him. Sure, guys like Hart and Branyan can hit, but a Kapler-Fielder-Hart, or Hall-Fielder-Hart middle of the order just isn't the same.
If the injury sends Braun to the DL, but there's good reason to think he'll be back before the end of the month, I'd be surprised to see the team make any serious moves. Kapler has filled in nicely, Branyan (and even Hall) can play left, and I wouldn't be shocked to see Ray Durham out there. (I don't endorse it, but I wouldn't rule it out.)
Not only that, but a DL move opens a roster spot for a replacement. The logical callups, I suppose, are:
- Joe Dillon: remember it was last August he impressed us so much, and since he's been on the team this year, he's the easiest guy for Ned to add to the mix.
Laynce Nix: he's OPSing almost 900 at Nashville, and is sort of Branyan without the walks and the major league track record. I'm skeptical, because he was a lot better the first two months of the season than he has been since; his June and July OBPs were .298 and .310, respectively. One plus is that he's a solid defender in a corner.
- Brad Nelson: he's probably not great shakes with the glove, but he has played quite a bit in left. I think he's my pick among these three, because he's nearly as powerful as Nix, but has a nearly .400 OBP. He's also swooned some the last couple of months, though.
Nothing too exciting there. I doubt it would matter much, since if it's a short-term injury, Kapler will be the guy.
What if, heaven forbid, Braun is out for most of the rest of the season?
As exciting as Kapler has been at times, there's no way he's the left fielder of a potential championship team (at least not this one) for two months. Nor is anybody else in the fold right now. Now that it's August, the trade market is much more constrained, but I've scanned the rosters of out-of-contention teams looking for possible replacements who have likely cleared waivers:
- Shannon Stewart ...just released by the Blue Jays...basically he's another Kapler.
- Aubrey Huff ...having a solid (302/360/550) season for the Orioles. We could do worse.
- Raul Ibanez ...on the block before the deadline; the Mariners should want to get rid of him. He's also having a decent year (286/350/483), but he's a major liability with the glove.
- Randy Winn ...Stewart, only more expensive.
Blech. Huff's really the only option that could come close to replacing Braun's offense, and we'd sacrifice some defense plugging him in over Kapler or Nix. He's also signed for $8MM next year, so we'd basically be borrowing him just to find a taker in the offseason. That's not going to happen.
Of course, there's always the nuclear option. Barry Bonds is on the market. The man can hit. If Braun is out for the season, I will pound the Bonds drum until you're so sick of hearing about it you'll want to go back to getting your Brewers commentary from Haudricourt. But I realize it's far fetched.
Exercises like this are always interesting, especially after the trade deadline. Let's hope this one is only an exercise.