We haven’t heard much of anything about the trade market for Ryan Braun this winter, and General Manager David Stearns indicated earlier this past week that he expects the former MVP to remain with the Milwaukee Brewers “next year and going forward.” According to a report from Nick Cafardo yesterday at the Boston Globe, it appears that Braun’s previous issues with performance enhancing drugs may be to blame. An anonymous team executive told Cafardo:
“When a guy with that contract has been busted once, it’s hard to commit those dollars and those player resources because if he gets busted again, you lose all of your guys and you lose Braun. Nobody is saying he’d do it again, but while he’s a very good impact player, it’s just a tough one.”
Braun, as I’m sure we all can recall, had a positive test for PEDs leaked in December 2011. He eventually had his suspension overturned in arbitration after it was learned that a FedEx employee improperly handled his urine sample, only to later become embroiled in the Biogenesis scandal. He wound up serving a 65 game suspension to finish the 2013 season.
After battling through a hand injury in during his return season in 2014 (and still posting a 113 wRC+ in 580 PA), Braun has been one of the elite offensive outfielders in baseball over the last two seasons. He’s batted .295/.361/.518 with 55 home runs and 40 steals in 1,132 plate appearances since the start of 2015 and his 131 wRC+ in that time ranks third among qualified National League outfielders. Braun, 33, is under contract for another four seasons and $76 mil with an option for 2021.
Given his outstanding production and a contract that’s started to look increasingly more reasonable over the past couple years, Slingin’ Stearns has reason to put a high price on Braun. It appears, however, that this may be a case of Ryan being more valuable to the Brewers than he is anywhere else. Though a good portion of the fan base in and around Milwaukee has forgiven their star player, he still receives a hearty round of boos whenever he comes up to the plate at just about any road stadium the Milwaukee Nine find themselves in. That’s likely thanks to his defiant proclamation of his innocence after the original suspension was overturned, only to later admit guilt. If a team were to give up an enticing package of prospects and take on a good portion of his contract only for Braun to fail another PED test, it would be a nightmare. Not only would that team lose his production on the field for two-thirds of a season, but it could make for a difficult situation in the locker room and would be a PR disaster.
It is worth bearing in mind, of course, that these could simply be the words of a rival executive who is trying to manipulate the market price for an elite player. Stearns has at least publicly indicated that he’s comfortable entering the 2017 season with Braun still on the roster, so it seems unlikely that he’ll simply take whatever the best offer ends up being this winter. As we saw with his eventual trade of Jonathan Lucroy, the young GM has been willing to set a price and not budge until someone meets it. Braun remaining with Milwaukee going forward would by no means be a bad outcome for the franchise, but given that his 10-5 full no trade rights vest next May, Stearns may be running out of chances to deal what would be the last domino of his full-scale rebuild project.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs