The Brewers made their decision in April of 2011, when they signed Ryan Braun to a 5-year contract extension worth $105 million. Along with his previous extension, the team chose to pay him a total of $150 million for 13 guaranteed years of service. That second contract extension, though, came at the beginning of Prince Fielder's last season with Milwaukee.
I don't think many people could realistically have expected the team to keep both Braun and Fielder long-term. When Braun inked his deal, that spelled the beginning of the end for Fielder's time with the Brewers. The following off season, Fielder signed a big contract with the Tigers.
By offering Braun that contract extension, the team made the choice to make him the face of the franchise. He would be what the team hasn't had since Robin Yount -- a bonafide superstar, a golden boy who could be a lifetime Brewer. At the time, it seemed like a safe choice.
Then Braun tested positive for performance enhancing substances. He appealed, and won, and maybe everything would have been OK. Instead, Biogenesis happened and Braun was suspended for 65 games. With that, Braun lost the respect of a lot of baseball fans and a lot of Brewers fans. When the season started, he was still cheered in Milwaukee. Few people want him off the team. But is he the face of the franchise any longer?
I would argue that Jonathan Lucroy has taken Braun's place in that role.
Braun has been a superstar and one of the very best players in the league, and still probably is when healthy. Lucroy, though, might be on his way to a similar claim. This year, the Brewers' catcher is hitting .314/.383/.508 with 12 home runs. He recently had a two-homer game against the Reds, including a walk-off solo shot. He is the most valuable backstop in the MLB this year. More than that, he is one of the most valuable players in baseball this year.
According to Fangraphs, Lucroy sits at a 4.2 WAR. That's the seventh-best number in the entire MLB. His wOBA is 13th best. His wRC+, 15th best. Now, Lucroy is starting to draw legitimate MVP consideration. Really, he has a hell of a chance at the award. His biggest competition this year is Troy Tulowitzki, who will certainly be hurt by the Rockies being terrible. Giancarlo Stanton and Paul Goldschmidt are also having great years and are also on horrible teams. Players contending for the award that are on actual contenders are Andrew McCutchen and Lucroy's teammate, Carlos Gomez.
Even if Lucroy misses out on the MVP, he should fall in the top-five. He has the numbers to be considered a face ofa franchise.
More than that, though, Lucroy is extremely well-liked by Milwaukee fans. Between chants of Luuuuuuuuc and soon-to-be 'MVP! MVP!", Lucroy also embodies the spirit of Milwaukee. He may be a southerner at heart given his birthstate of Florida and college years in Louisiana, but his rise from relative unknown to potential MVP despite his lack of raw talent is something that resonates with Brewers fans.
Lucroy was drafted in the third round of the 2007 draft. He was never a top-100 prospect. He was rarely heralded as a top prospect in the organization, even, with Angel Salome earning most of the recognition as the top catching prospect in the system. But it was Lucroy who made it to the majors and always put up solid, if mostly unspectacular numbers (though his 2012 season might have been more highly regarded as his breakout campaign had he not broken his hand). This year, he's become one of the best.
Add to Lucroy's connection with Milwaukee and his outstanding stats the fact that he has never tested positive for a performance enhancer, and it's easy to see him being the face of the franchise. Lucroy is also currently on one of the best valued deals in baseball as his contract pays him a total of $11 million for five years through the 2016 season.
And I would argue the Brewers feel that Lucroy is their face moving forward, as well. It was, after all, Lucroy who received the commercials to support his claim for an All Star spot. That despite Braun having the more tenuous position in voting, as it was almost certain Lucroy would get in even if he didn't start.
At this point, I think fans and the team can agree. Jonathan Lucroy is the new face of the Brewers.