A PECOTA-Powered Case Against Trading Ryan Braun

Ryan Braun remains a Milwaukee Brewer, defying the expectations of many. It should surprise nobody, though, that Braun is projected to be the best player on the Brewers by a fairly wide margin. His 2.8 WARP and .288 TAV both dwarf the next best projections on the club, belonging to Orlando Arcia (2.0 WARP) and Domingo Santana (.273 TAV) respectively.

Despite this, consensus seems to be that the question is when, not if, Ryan Braun will be traded. But I think when we look at Braun’s PECOTA projection — for 2017 and beyond — it makes the urgency to trade the star outfielder seem much less necessary. PECOTA projects Braun to mash 20 home runs and post a TAV of at least .287 for each of the next three years. Even as the projection system slates him for fewer and fewer plate appearances as he ages, his performance is still expected to be of a high enough quality to produce over two wins above replacement.

Brewers fans probably want more than above-average for $20 million per season. But Braun’s projections for 2017 and beyond compare well to free agents who signed similar contracts this winter to the four years and $80 million remaining on Braun’s deal. Observe:

Player 2017 WARP 2018 WARP 2019 WARP 2020 WARP Salary
Ryan Braun 3 2.7 2.4 2.1 $80 million
Yoenis Cespedes 4.3 3.8 3.6 3.4 $110 million
Justin Turner 3.1 3.3 3.3 2.8 $64 million
Dexter Fowler 1.8 2 1.6 1.6 $66 million
Josh Reddick 1.9 1.5 1.5 1.3 $52 million
Ian Desmond 0.9 0.5 0.3 0.5 $60 million

Along with Braun, I have listed the PECOTA future projections for the five position players to sign contracts of four years or longer last offseason. The only one with a significantly stronger outlook is Cespedes, the priciest option on the list. Turner and Braun both stand well above Fowler, Reddick and Desmond.

I present this list to illustrate not just that Braun offers strong value going forawrd, but to show just how minimal the scraps available on the free agent market can be. Even if Braun is no longer an MVP-level player, there are few hitters of his level around. He has shown a diverse enough skillset to believe he can remain a great hitter deep into his thirties, and even with some declining, he’ll remain better than many of the options available.

None of this is to say the Brewers shouldn’t trade Braun if the right deal doesn’t make itself available. If the Brewers can add impact talent with the potential to become a star (or stars) to their farm system through a trade, they should jump on that opportunity. But if the Brewers need to throw in money to make a deal work — or worse, they need to accept lower quality prospects because of Braun’s salary — they should simply walk away from the bargaining table.

Just because Ryan Braun is owed a lot of money doesn’t make his contract a tainted asset. It’s hard to find the value Braun provides even at his bloated price tag. Hitters like him don’t grow on trees, and even if they did, most would find themselves signed to team-friendly contracts before they could ever hit free agency. A bat like Braun’s will be hard to find if the Brewers find themselves in contention in the next two or three years, and as such, Milwaukee should drive a hard bargain before they give it up.

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