Unless the Milwaukee Brewers reverse course from their rebuilding trajectory, this winter figures to be dominated by Ryan Braun rumors. The Brewers have traded some 17 major league players since July of 2015 and only two players with guaranteed contracts remain. Braun is the last blue-chip veteran that the Brewers can try and deal, and many within the industry appear to believe that he will in fact be moved this winter after a rumored deal with the Dodgers in August never came to fruition.
If Milwaukee does indeed shop Braun this winter, he figures to carry some rather significant value. In spite of his age (33), the outfielder enjoyed an extremely productive campaign in 2016, posting a .305/.365/.538 slash in 135 games while swatting 30 home runs and stealing 16 bases. That was good enough for a 133 wRC+, ranking him third-best among all qualified NL outfielders. A move back to left field after two seasons in right also helped Braun put up some improved metrics defensively. He is still owed $76 mil over the next four seasons, which is not a small sum but also isn’t prohibitive; Braun would be a good bet to beat that guarantee this winter were he a free agent.
Yesterday Ken Rosenthal listed his top 10 offseason trade targets with Braun coming in at #2 behind only White Sox ace Chris Sale. Rosenthal stated that “[n]o one should be surprised” if the Dodgers are the ones who ultimately do consummate a deal for Milwaukee’s left fielder. Braun’s limited no trade clause allows him to veto trades to all clubs except the Dodgers, Angels, Giants, Diamondbacks, Padres, and Marlins, so the Brewers might not have as much leverage as they would like when considering the trade of a superstar.
ESPN also surveyed 38 “baseball people” - general managers, AGMs, scouts, and one manager - about a myriad of different topics and published the results yesterday. Among the questions was: What's the most likely scenario: (1) Ryan Braun gets traded; (2) Yasiel Puig gets traded; or (3) they get traded for each other?
13 respondents chose “Braun gets traded”; nine thought they’d be traded for one another; five answered that both are traded, but not for each other; and nine thought it was more likely Puig gets traded (two respondents declined to answer).
Jerry Crasnick, the author of the post, suggests that Braun’s remaining contract guarantee makes him a “tough fit” for the rebuilding Brewers and that after trading Jonathan Lucroy in August, moving Braun would be “only natural.” I’m not sure I buy either of those two points, however.
Braun’s contract is the only one on the books for the Brewers after 2017 and the club had the league’s lowest payroll last season. Given his level of production, the Hebrew Hammer is hardly a drain on the club’s resources. Braun and Lucroy’s contract statuses also couldn’t have been any more different. Lucroy was only under club control for another season and a half when the Brewers sent him to Texas, and his incredibly club-friendly deal was a significant part of his trade value. The Brewers may be asked to eat some money if they do attempt to move Braun, on the other hand, and he is under club control for another four seasons. In that time frame he could conceivably be a part of the next competitive Brewers team.
There may also be some hesitation within the Dodgers’ ranks about parting ways with 25 year old Yasiel Puig. Last season was Puig’s worst as a big leaguer, leading to his demotion to the minor leagues. He did come back up in September, however, and hit .281/.338/.561 with four home runs (137 wRC+) in 23 games to finish out the season. "I think they're afraid of trading Puig and seeing him return to stardom,'' an NL scout said in the story. "They would never hear the end of it.''
Another scout quoted in the article notes that “L.A. knows Milwaukee probably wants to move Braun's money. Milwaukee knows L.A. probably wants to move Puig...Maybe Milwaukee sends another major league piece to the Dodgers, and the Dodgers send back prospects. It's a good fit on paper, but it might not be super easy to get the right deal.''
So while a majority of the respondents think that it would make sense for Braun to begin next season donning a new uniform, getting an actual deal done is an altogether different proposition. David Stearns was asked about a potential deal at the ‘Inside the Brewers’ event and stated that given Braun’s elite talent, there is of course interest in his services. The GM explores all inquiries but Milwaukee would require a return package “commensurate with his abilities.” Considering that Braun is still on the roster, such a package still has yet to be offered.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs