With the Milwaukee Brewers fully committed to rebuilding their organization through drafting and trading players, there has been a lot of speculation that General Manager David Stearns will look to move veteran outfielder and 2011 MVP Ryan Braun.
Following 2016, a year that saw the organization trade away one of its biggest stars in catcher Jonathon Lucroy and accomplished bullpen arms Will Smith and Jeremy Jeffress in deals that wound up bringing a new #1 overall prospect in to the Brewers farm system and a couple other promising minor leaguers, trading Braun seems like a foregone conclusion. But if the Milwaukee Brewers want to make the 2017 MLB Playoffs, they should hold on to Ryan Braun.
First of all, we need to acknowledge that no one expected the Brewers to be in first place in the NL Central on Father’s Day. After an impressive 2-1 win over the San Diego Padres at Miller Park today, the Brewers improved their record to 38-33 and maintained their 2.5 game lead over rival and reigning World Series champion Chicago Cubs.
If Milwaukee wants to keep, or preferably, add to their lead, they are going to need Ryan Braun in the lineup. And though he’s been absent from the lineup for the majority of the season, the Brewers are still playing above .500 baseball, surprising everyone in baseball. Braun’s batting .262 with 7 home runs, 19 runs, 19 RBI and a .350 on-base percentage.
The seven home runs still count for sixth on the team, despite having played less than half of the teams 71 games with a couple of stints on the disabled list. In the 28 games Braun has started this year, the Brewers record is 15-13 and the team is averaging 5.5 runs a game. In the 43 games the Brewers have played without Braun, the team is 23-20, but averaging only 4.2 runs a game. Ryan Braun’s presence in the lineup helps the whole team produce at a higher level.
Remember April and the arrival of Eric Thames? The former MLB-flameout-turned-Korean-baseball-god got his second chance in the majors after the Brewers signed him to a 3-year/$15 million contract last winter and didn’t waste any time showing the league what he was capable of. Through May 1, a span of 27 games when Braun was still playing every day and batting third, Thames was batting second and hitting .341 with 11 home runs and 19 RBI.
From May 2 through June 18, a span of 43 games in which Braun only played six games, Thames has still been in the two spot and has seen his batting average drop to as low as .254, though he’s gotten it back up to .269 after today’s win. He’s still been productive, hitting 9 homers and 19 RBI, but it doesn’t quite match his first month back in the bigs. While it was unlikely Thames was going to sustain his April success, his fall back to Earth was accelerated by Braun’s absence. Braun’s presence allows Thames to see better pitches, ultimately giving the Brewers a more productive offense.
Still, a move would seem to make sense. With Braun’s backloaded contract and a crowd of young and talented outfielders, the Brewers could probably yield a nice crop of prospects if they flipped him and maybe open up even more space in the payroll to put towards some starting pitching. The Brewers have already called up highly touted outfield prospects Lewis Brinson and Brett Phillips this season, although Phillips has since been demoted back to AAA. Now that Keon Broxton and Domingo Santana are heating up, Brewers fans are pushing for Braun to be traded.
Sure, Broxton has hit five home runs in the past seven games, but in that same seven game window, he struck out 13 times! According to FanGraphs.com, Broxton is striking out over 40% of the time he’s at the plate. His BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play) is .357, but is batting only .234 on the season. With a BABIP that high and average so low, regression is inevitable. And as far as Brinson, our (hopefully) future all-star hasn’t made the adjustment to the Major League level yet. In his 23 plate appearances, Brinson only has three hits and has struck out 11 times. Albeit a small sample size, Brinson hasn’t proven himself capable of producing at the plate.
Despite Braun’s controversial career in Milwaukee, he is one of the most productive players in franchise history. He is a leader in the clubhouse and in the batter’s box. He is still capable of putting up MVP caliber numbers when healthy. If the Brewers are going to compete for a division title or a wild card without Braun, they will need Broxton to keep overachieving, Thames to keep smashing homers without the protection of a former MVP, and for inexperienced rookies to learn how to hit Major League pitching. The numbers say we’re better off with Braun.