April 21st, 2011 is a significant date in the history of the Milwaukee Brewers. On that day, it was announced that Ryan Braun had agreed to a five-year, $105 mil contract extension, the richest outlay ever made by the team on an individual player. Braun, who was 27 at the time, still had four years remaining on the pre-arbitration extension that he had inked in 2008, meaning that he had committed to spending more than a decade in baseball’s smallest media market.
Last week, Braun’s deal that was signed so long ago came to an unceremonious end when the Brewers declined their half of the 2021 mutual option, opting instead to pay a $4 mil buyout. For the first time in more than 15 years since he was drafted in 2005, Ryan Braun was no longer an official member of the organization. The move was not a surprise, and Braun has long been open about the possibility of retirement. The door for a return has been left open by both sides as Braun is only 37 hits short of 2,000 for his career and deserves a proper farewell tour in front of the Milwaukee fans, but it doesn’t sound like a decision will be reached until after the new year.
Braun’s contract has been a point of contention among fans over the years. After the Biogenesis debacle, many viewed the deal as an albatross around the neck of the Brewers. Braun was disliked by fans around the country, had the stain of PED use on his success, and was highly-paid slugger who was aging and dealing with regular injury as the franchise headed into their rebuild phase in 2015.
Despite hot and heavy rumors about a possible deal with the Dodgers, Braun wound up staying with the Brewers during the full five-year duration of his contract guarantee (which wound up being closer to $95 mil total after the shortened 2020 campaign with prorated salaries). During those seasons, Braun served in many different roles. He was a down-ballot MVP candidate and was still the face of the franchise during the transitional season of 2016, finishing 23rd in voting — his last truly great season — for a surprisingly fun squad that won 73 games. Injuries started to really eat into his playing time beginning in 2017 and he was no longer the top hitter on the team, but he was a September stalwart for four consecutive late-season charges, including three-straight playoff appearances from 2018-20. He was a respected veteran presence in the locker room, earning praise from the younger players who emerged during the rebuild and the team’s ascent to contender. He also became close with Christian Yelich after his arrival and was instrumental in orchestrating the long-term deal that will keep Yelich in the Cream City for most of the next decade.
On the flip-side, Braun was the one of the highest paid players on the team for each of the last five seasons. The team did not win a World Series during his tenure. He appeared in 547 of 709 possible games during those years, getting on the field about 77% of the time. Perhaps those dollars could have been distributed in a different, more efficient and owner-friendly way to cover other weaknesses on the roster during those years.
In all, Braun’s production during his second contract extension finishes like this:
7.5 bWAR || 8.2 fWAR || 6.6 WARP
So when taking everything into consideration — the contract, when it was signed, the on-field production, the big moments, the playoff runs, the stuff in the locker room and off the field (both good and bad) — was Ryan Braun’s second contract extension “worth it” to the Milwaukee Brewers?
Was Ryan Braun’s second contract extension covering the 2016-2020 seasons worth it?
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Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference