A couple of days ago FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal brought up the idea of a Ryan Braun trade. It's not a novel idea of course. The Brewers are rebuilding and there's probably not a single truly untouchable player on the team. But before the season began, there were a lot of question still surrounding the former MVP. He has the PED suspension forever attached to his name, a unique thumb injury that may or may not have still been an issue, and probably more importantly was just coming off winter back surgery. In spite of all that his performance this season is shades of prime Ryan Braun and so now a trade doesn't seem as far fetched. Though as Rosenthal notes, parts of Braun's contract could still be an obstacle.
Rosenthal specifically brings up the topic of Braun's no-trade clause. He can block trades to all teams except the Angels, Dodgers, Marlins, Diamondbacks, Padres, and Giants. I don't really see any of those teams trading for Braun and of course that's the point of structuring things this way. Players and their agents will often use these no-trade clauses for leverage to get a bonus or a vesting/team option guaranteed. But sometimes players honestly don't want to leave their team. We saw this with Brandon Phillips and the Reds in the offseason. So where does Braun fit on that spectrum? I have no idea. However if he would allow a trade, his contract (talking about the money and length now) should not be an obstacle.
After this season Braun has 4 guaranteed years left on his contract and a mutual option for a 5th year. He's guaranteed $76 million over that 4 year span--which includes the $4 million buyout for the option. That was a lot of money when the Brewers signed him to that contract back in 2011, but it's actually not that much money anymore. On top of that there are deferments which lighten the financial burden over those four years.
A total of $14 million dollars is deferred over that four year period. Another $4 million is deferred from this year's salary too. That all has to be paid back starting in 2022--the year after his mutual option. But it's spread out over 10 years which equals just $1.8 million per year. That's pennies. So not only do the Brewers--or any trading team--never pay Braun more than $15 million in any given season, the deferments are portioned out so that they wouldn't really impact any future payroll.
We've seen the Brewers include money in recent deals to either facilitate the deal or get better prospects back. They included money in the Yovani Gallardo, Aramis Ramirez, and Jonathan Broxton deals. And more recently they took on a large portion of Aaron Hill's contract to get a better trade return. So if the Brewers were to move Braun, it seems pretty simple for them to pay the deferred amount to facilitate such a trade. That would mean the trading team gets Braun for 4 years and $62 million. That's an AAV of $15.5 million.
In free agent dollars that's a little north of two wins. Last year Ryan Braun hit 285/356/498 with 25 HR and 24 SB. That performance was valued at 2.8 wins by FanGraphs, 2.4 wins by Baseball Prospectus, and 3.8 wins by Baseball Reference. So he was easily worth that $15.5 million last year. But there are some things to consider.
He was still dealing with how to manage the thumb issue, he hurt his back later in the season, and he was playing in RF when he probably should have been playing in LF. I'm inclined to believe the thumb is no longer much of an issue if it's an issue at all. Any trading team could probably make room for him in LF which would mean less negative value from his defense. The back we'll have to wait and see how it will impact him going forward--and as a player in his 30's now injuries might start popping up more often. So here I cannot dismiss it entirely. But his early season performance is incredibly encouraging.
In 24 games and 97 plate appearances he has hit 372/443/605 with 5 home runs and 2 stolen bases. He's already been worth 0.8 fWAR, 1.1 rWAR, and 1.2 WARP. Obviously he's not going to keep hitting this well. But it's done a lot to allay concerns about his health and his ability to perform post PEDs. As long as he keeps hitting well, he's going to be sought after in a trade. And if the Brewers can get Braun to agree to a trade, given the surprisingly reasonable salary, he could fetch the Brewers a very solid prospect package.
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