Just over a month ago, I examined Ryan Braun’s trade value largely by comparing him to prominent free agent outfielders. Now that all those free agents have signed, it is a bit easier to pin down Braun’s approximate value. In short, the past month has not been good for Braun’s trade value or those hoping the Brewers might trade him soon.
At the time, Alex Gordon, Justin Upton, and Yoenis Cespedes were all free agents, and I used the projections of Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors to compare those values to the remaining 5 years/$105 million owed to Braun. My conclusion was that Braun’s value compared similarly to Gordon’s and favorably to Upton’s and Cespedes’.
The problem? All three of those players’ contracts fell far short of Dierkes’ projections.
Gordon, likely the closest comp to Braun due mainly to age, was projected for 5/$105 million. Instead, he received 4 years/$72 million–a huge difference.
Upton was projected for 7/$147 million; he “only” received 6/$132.75 million, although he did receive the trendy opt-out clause after his second season.
Yoenis Cespedes, who Dierkes projected for 6/$140 million, signed the most unique contract of the three. He settled for fewer years (3/$75 million) but negotiated an opt-out after just one season. Still, it’s clear nobody was offering anything too close to 6/$140 million.
So, what does this all mean for the Brewers? I wouldn’t say that Braun’s contract is far worse (in terms of value) than these other players, but my expectation was that his contract would end up looking better after these players signed. Instead, we may have seen the opposite effect.
This doesn’t mean Braun’s contract is an albatross. It just indicates that it probably isn’t a value. It also probably indicates that the Brewers won’t be trading Braun before the season starts–something that was a long shot even before those other outfielders signed their contracts, mostly due to practicality. GM David Stearns is much more likely to focus first on players with shorter contracts who will be easier to deal. Everyone has been buzzing about a potential Jonathan Lucroy trade, and Stearns was obviously more focused on Jean Segura, at least over the last few days. Suddenly, the Brewers have a glut of both outfielders and starting pitchers, so I’d definitely handicap a Khris Davis or Wily Peralta trade to come before a Braun trade.
All this shows us that Braun isn’t going anywhere until trade deadline season at the very earliest. If Braun has a hot start to the season, you’ll start hearing more about teams having interest. I would still advocate the Brewers chipping in a substantial portion of Braun’s contract to increase the return–basically a much bigger version of what the Brewers did in netting Isan Diaz for absorbing $5.5 million of Aaron Hill’s contract.
Stearns is off to a great start. The Brewers’ farm system keeps climbing up the ranks, and he’s only going to continue this process. He can continue to make an impact by trading younger players on more reasonable contracts, and in the meantime, both Braun and the Brewers will benefit from him having another solid season.