The San Francisco Giants have had a rough go of it so far in 2017. The club is mired in last place in the NL West at 8-14 and currently have six players on the disabled list, including ace Madison Bumgarner, who hurt his throwing shoulder while riding dirt bikes. Their offense has been anemic; the club has scored just 72 runs thus far to rank t-25th in the MLB while their collective 80 wRC+ ranks 27th. Specifically, San Francisco’s throng of left fielders have managed a meager .131/.207/.205 slash for a 17 wRC+. Only the Rangers have gotten worse production from their left field contingent.
As it so happens, the Milwaukee Brewers currently have a very useful left fielder on their roster who has been the subject of trade rumors going back the last couple of years now. Though he’s been a bit overshadowed by Eric Thames’ home run barrage, Ryan Braun is now hitting a stellar .289/.379/.592 (154 wRC+) with 6 home runs and 4 steals through his first 87 plate appearances this season. He’s scalding the ball almost every time he makes contact and is currently carrying a 48.1% hard contact rate, which would be far-and-away the best total of his career. Both FRAA and UZR approve of his work thus far in left field, too, valuing him at 0.8 and 0.7 runs better than average through his first 21 games of the season.
According to Andrew Baggarly, who covers the Giants for the San Jose Mercury News, the Giants and Brewers have indeed had discussions regarding a deal for Milwaukee’s franchise left fielder. According to Baggarly, the Brewers are seeking both “salary relief” and “some pretty good players” in exchange for Braun’s services. He also added that given Milwaukee’s solid start to the season (they are currently sitting at 12-11), he expects that the Brewers will likely hold on to Braun for now and see how the season goes:
I will say that several scouts told me the Brewers were their surprise team of the spring. Several remarked how they looked much better than anticipated. And Bellarmine Prep’s Eric Thames is the talk of the league right now.
Braun is still under contract through at least 2020 and is owed roughly $76 mil, including his $19 mil salary for this season. San Francisco is not one of the teams that he can veto a deal to with his partial no-trade clause, but he does earn his full 10-5 no-trade rights on May 14th. Braun has indicated that if he is dealt, he would prefer it to be a team in his native California so it’s unlikely the no-trade provision would prove to be a significant impediment towards a deal with the Giants.
What is holding a deal back from happening, however, appears to be what Milwaukee is seeking in return. The Brewers are apparently looking to move most of, if not all, of Braun’s remaining salary if they are going to deal him. Not only that, but given San Francisco’s weaker farm system, the Brewers may very well be asking for their top two prospects - Tyler Beede and Christian Arroyo - to even get a package started. If the two speculative proposals made by Chris Crawford of Hero Sports are a good barometer for Braun’s value (to HOU for David Paulino, Derek Fischer, and Garrett Stubbs or to TEX for Joey Gallo, Yohander Mendez, and Jose Trevino) then it would be tough for San Francisco to put together the requisite package without including both Beede and Arroyo, along with another highly-rated prospect.
Baggarly says that the fact that Braun is still in Milwaukee means that Slingin’ David Stearns hasn’t backed down one iota from what his initial asking price. Ryan Braun is still an elite offensive player in the MLB and the Brewers are valuing him as such, even given his age (33), contract status, and injury history. Given the lack of apparent urgency to get a deal done, it would seem that the Brewers are comfortable with retaining Braun moving forward if they can’t find a willing trade partner.
Milwaukee’s lineup is scoring runs almost at will so far and is full of controllable players, while the relatively inexperienced pitching staff has been surprisingly okay to this point in the season. The Brewers’ rebuild could perhaps be a bit ahead of schedule and if the team believes it could be in a position to compete for a playoff berth next year of even this season, then it wouldn’t make much sense to deal one of the anchors of the lineup and the face of the franchise. As David Stearns has shown, however, he’s willing to move any player if the price is right. Either way, the Brewers seem to be in a good spot as an organization whether or not they trade Ryan Braun.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball Prospectus