And what it means for the future
By: Jim Boyce
The career of Ryan Braun is a tale of two halves. The dividing line being the embarrassing PED saga that Braun put the Brewers organization and fans through. Prior to the positive test, Braun was revered among those in the game as a bright young star. He also backed it up on the field, putting up MVP caliber numbers which culminated in winning the 2011 NL MVP after a 96 win season for the Brewers. He was, along with Aaron Rodgers, the face of Wisconsin sports.
Everyone knows what happened next, Braun’s public fall from grace. After his suspension in 2013 he played but battled injuries in 2014 and 2015. His numbers falling in part due to a rather unusual thumb injury, though to his credit he did make the NL All-Star roster in 2015.
Braun had an experimental thumb procedure and it appears to be paying dividends here in 2016. Much to the surprise of fans, Braun has resembled the player he was from 2007-2012. Through 131 games (110 played by Braun) he is batting .313 with 24 home runs and 74 RBI. While he still gets rest days occasionally, Braun is playing at a level that is worth his contract and then some. It has in many ways been a bright spot for fans in an otherwise forgettable season.
Braun is 32 years old now and has four years remaining on his deal. This season has sparked hope that he can continue to stay healthy and productive through the remainder of that deal. That is a rather big if though, and the Brewers minor league system is stocked with outfielders. Lewis Brinson, recently acquired in the Lucroy trade, is batting over .400 since joining the Brewers triple A club. He has a clear path to the Centerfield job when the Brewers brass deems him ready. However the Brewers did not draft Corey Ray and Trent Clark, nor trade for Brett Phillips, just to keep them in the minors. Within the next 2-3 seasons these young guys will be ready for the show as long as their development does not take an unforeseen hit.
Assuming Brinson, Ray, Phillips and Clark all arrive in the majors within the next four seasons there will be a logjam in the outfield. 24 year old Domingo Santana also currently mans right field, and the club is likely hoping he can be a long term piece. With no DH in the National League the team will face a conundrum with Ryan Braun. While Stearns and company could wait and hope on continued production from Braun to facilitate a trade down the line, it might be a good idea for them to consider a trade now. No substantial rumors have surfaced before the August 31st deadline, though speculation does exist. The offseason may also be a time that Stearns explores moving Braun, as the OF free agent class is rather weak outside of a couple big names. A team that does not land Yoenis Cespedes for example may be willing to take on most of Braun’s big contract in a deal.
While I don’t vilify Braun like most of the world does, I certainly don’t see him in the same light as before his PED scandal. Nonetheless it would be hard to see Braun go. He is a decade long piece of my favorite team, and has delivered some of the best moments in franchise history. Much like the Lucroy trade I understand the need to acquire prospects, as the Brewers aren’t winning any pennants as currently constructed with Braun. Whatever happens we as fans should enjoy Ryan Braun’s performance on the field, and keep our fingers crossed for continued good health, so he can give Bob Uecker a chance at some more “get up, get outta here, gone’s” for as long as he’s in a Brewers uniform.