The Ryan Braun Situation is Complicated

Ryan Braun is currently 32 years old. He will be 33 when the season starts. As you might remember, he was involved in a number of trade rumors during the trade deadline. This offseason, reporters are already asking David Stearns whether or not Braun will be traded. Stearns, as per usual gave a vague answer, suggesting that a player such as Braun will obviously draw some interest from a number of teams; whether he will be traded is yet to be determined.

You might also remember that during the August waiver period, the Brewers were the team who claimed Yasiel Puig from the Dodgers. As was reported, they engaged in a number of serious discussions, but both teams weren’t able to come to an agreement.

The question of whether Braun should be traded is obviously a complicated one. Yes, Braun has suffered a number of setbacks due to his injuries and yes he’s had the whole PED incident, but Braun still remains a very productive hitter. Just this past season he finished with a .316 True Average, his best mark since 2012. Which ranks as the 15th best mark in all of baseball for 2016, and 11th in the National League (min 300 PA). Braun’s overall skill level though, isn’t that of a top 20 player. His 3.9 WARP is very good, and worth a lot of money but isn’t higher due to his poor defense.

Here is where some of the problems lie with Braun’s production. Aging curves have clearly shown that fielding is usually one the first things to go, and in Braun’s case, it’s pretty clear at this point that fielding skills have left him.

But, that’s been clear for a couple of years now, and whoever will want to trade and acquire Braun isn’t going to be betting on his defense to bounce back, at least they shouldn’t be. What isn’t all that clear is how Braun’s bat will age going forward. Usually, players who start to decline don’t always bounce back, in fact, most of them don’t. Braun in this respect is an outlier, but he also becomes harder to project going forward.

When teams are going to be valuing Braun, and making the calculated decision of whether to trade for him or not they will not simply be looking at his past year’s results. Obviously, some of that will go into the calculus, but they will be evaluating Braun mostly on how they project his bat going forward, and there’s going to be a lot of uncertainty in that regard.

For the Brewers, though, the calculus is even more complicated. Braun, while he has a shady past, is still a beloved figure in Milwaukee, and one of the fan favorites. He’s been with the team for a number of years, and a number of people still enjoy watching him play. That said, the older Braun gets the less productive he is going to be. At the end of the day, nobody is able to beat father time.

The difficulty for the Brewers will be figuring out a good price for Braun. On the one hand, Braun proved last year that he still can play, but the Brewers are still transitioning into a younger team. Braun could help them speed up the rebuild, but he could easily become an albatross contract if things don’t go right.

The Brewers also have a number of outfield prospects and young players in the organization. Domingo Santana and Keon Broxton are already at the major league level. Even though Brett Phillips struggled, to a certain extent last year, he’s still a well-regarded prospect, and Lewis Brinson tore it up in his Triple-A short stint with the Brewers, meaning that he may not be long for the Major Leagues. In which case, Braun might be blocking someone.

The idea isn’t that the Brewers have to trade Braun this offseason. Rather that there will be a lot of risk with whatever decision they will make. Obviously, if no one offers anything of quality, then it becomes a much simpler decision, or if someone blows them away then once again, no brainer. But, teams are getting smarter every year, lopsided trades just don’t happen that often anymore.Nobody is going to be able to take advantage of anyone, which is why the Brewers’ decision will be difficult.

In any case, if the Brewers think they can compete in the next two years or so, they should prioritize players that are closer to the big league level. Those players, probably, won’t have the same upside as a player in A-ball, but they will definitely have less risk. This also seemed to be important to Stearns when he made his deadline deals. Brinson, Luis Ortiz, and Phil Bickford all have ETA’s of 2017 or 2018. This means that they are expected to reach the majors in the next two years. The Brewers by that point will probably be looking to be competitive.

When it comes to Braun, the decision will have to be whether he can help the team more during that time frame than the players they will acquire from the trade, and maybe from the money they will save.

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