Spring Training starts in a little more than a week, but the Milwaukee Brewers may be missing a familiar face around American Family Fields of Phoenix in Maryvale for the first time in more than a decade and a half. Ryan Braun has been a free agent since his 2021 contract option was declined by the team after the end of this past season, and according to a story from Adam McCalvy, Milwaukee’s long-time franchise player is not interested in continuing his playing career, at least at this moment.
“I’m continuing to work out and stay in shape, but I’m not currently interested in playing. I am enjoying my family and focused on other business interests for now but appreciate the interest I’ve received and will continue to regularly stay in touch with the Brewers.”
Braun, the #5 overall pick by the Brewers in 2005, has not officially closed the book on what would be a highly-decorated 14 year career, but it sure sounds as if he is leaning that way. The 2007 National League Rookie of the Year, 2011 Most Valuable Player, six-time All-Star, and five-time Silver Slugger award winner has said that he would take time to consider his family, the state of the game, and what the pandemic situation looks like before deciding whether or not he’d return. Without the universal DH in the National League, the continued presence of Avisail Garcia, and Keston Hiura slated to take over at first base, there is no obvious spot for Braun to receive regular playing time.
Even in is age-36 season last summer, Braun was still a productive bat for the Menomonee Valley Nine, at least when he was on the field. He finished with a .233/.281/.488 slash line with 8 home runs in 141 plate appearances for a 101 OPS+. Statcast metrics like exit velocity (66th percentile), hard contact rate (59th), xwOBAA (61st), xBA (75th), xSLG (73rd), and barrel rate (78th) all viewed Braun favorably in 2020, as well.
Braun is the franchise’s all-time leader with 352 career home runs across 14 seasons with the only MLB franchise he’s ever known, and he’s recorded 1,963 hits with a .296/.358/.532 career slash line for a 134 OPS+. For some, his legacy is complicated after his performance enhancing drug suspension and how the aftermath was handled. But Braun has been the constant presence during the most succesful run in franchise history, appearing in five different postseasons and two NL Championship Series. He transitioned gracefully from a young superstar to valued clubhouse veteran and leader and helped convince Christian Yelich to sign an extension that made Yelich the next face of the franchise after Braun. He’s remained productive throughout his career and has stepped up in countless clutch moments.
We’ll see if this is truly the end, or if Ryan Braun — who has never been one to start playing in Spring Training games right away, anyway — still finds his way back on to the field in Milwaukee for a final farewell tour in front of fans in 2021.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference and Baseball Savant