We’re reaching the point of the off-season where teams are starting to move on to Plan B. Given what’s left on the free agent market, it sure seems like a good time to have a trade chip. Teams who preferred to look to free agency to add talent (it makes sense on the surface; why would you want to give up assets in the form of prospects to acquire talent when you could do so with only money?) may now need to look to a trade.
For instance, yesterday we learned that teams have increased initial offers for White Sox ace Jose Quintana. The White Sox, who have already added an incredible influx of talent to their minor league system this off-season, are sure to hit another home run with a Quintana trade. That’s because teams are becoming more desperate to add impact talent.
That brings us to Ryan Braun, who unfortunately doesn’t have anywhere near the trade value of Quintana. The Brewers can hope for a similar effect on teams looking for offense, however. Yoenis Cespedes, Edwin Encarnacion, Justin Turner, Dexter Fowler, Ian Desmond, Josh Reddick, Neil Walker, and Carlos Gomez are all off the market, and it sounds like Jose Bautista is about to re-sign with the Blue Jays. If you’re a team who didn’t land one of these guys and is still looking for help, the options aren’t looking great. Brandon Moss? Mark Trumbo? Mike Napoli? Not bad options, but also not impact players. Braun is still an impact player, and in a vacuum, certainly teams would prefer to have him over the likes of what’s left on the free agent market.
Trading Braun is more complicated in reality than in a vacuum, of course, and those complications have been well-documented: His limited no-trade clause, his contract, his age, his less-than-ideal defense, and if you believe some reports, his history with PEDs. When balancing those issues with the fact that Braun was a top 20 hitter last season, you can see why it’s difficult to gauge his trade value and why nobody has enticed the Brewers enough to make a deal.
The biggest obstacle is the no-trade clause. The only teams Braun could not block a trade to last season were the Angels, Padres, Dodgers, Giants, Marlins, and Diamondbacks. There have been rumblings that he has changed one of those teams this year, but I have not been able to find anything concrete on that, so that’s the list we’ll go with. The problem with that list is that at least a few teams are poor matches for Braun: San Diego is rebuilding, the Angels have a wasteland of a farm system, Miami’s set in the outfield, and Arizona is at a crossroads where they could try to contend or rebuild. Only two of those teams have a clear need and the means to work a trade: the Giants and the Dodgers.
The Dodgers are the obvious candidate. Multiple reports had them close to acquiring Braun in a waiver deal that couldn’t quite get done in time during the season. They are another team who is on Plan B. They did well to sign Justin Turner, but he doesn’t serve as an addition; they simply kept a player they had last season. They are looking to improve their offense. Their first choice was to trade for Minnesota’s Brian Dozier, but it seems those talks have stalled. It would make sense for the Dodgers to come back to Braun, who will have a lower price tag than Dozier.
And the Brewers should have all the motivation in the world to get that deal done. Take back salary. Lower the asking price on the prospects a bit. Whatever it takes, David Stearns should make it happen.
Why? It’s not because Braun is in decline; 2016 was his best season in a few years. He’s still a great hitter. It’s certainly not because of his PED history–I view those reports as nothing more than clubs trying to leverage the Brewers to lower their asking price. It’s not even largely because of the four years/$80 million remaining on his contract, although that doesn’t help. It’s all because of two things: all the young outfielders the Brewers have collected in the past season and a half, and May 25, 2017.
The significance of May 25th? That’s the date Braun made his major league debut in 2007. On that date in 2017, Braun will earn his 10/5 rights: a full no-trade clause awarded to a player with ten years of MLB service time and five years on one team. By that date, the Brewers could be stuck with Braun for the remainder of his contract. “Stuck with” has a negative connotation, and for many teams, having Braun for the next four years would not be a bad thing, but it would be for the Brewers.
Braun is best served to help a competing team right now, but the Brewers won’t be a competing team for at least a couple seasons. By that point, Braun’s production will have likely dipped due to his aging curve. It’s possible he may not even be one of the Brewers’ three best outfielders within a couple years. The Brewers’ outfield is looking pretty crowded going forward, even without Braun in the picture. Domingo Santana, Keon Broxton, Lewis Brinson, Brett Phillips, Trent Clark, and Corey Ray are all considered strong candidates to be starting outfielders on, say, the 2019 Brewers. That’s even without mentioning outfielders Ryan Cordell, Monte Harrison, Tyrone Taylor, Michael Reed, and Demi Orimoloye, all top 30 in the Brewers’ system right now.
The most valuable time for a team to have Braun is in 2017, not in 2019 or 2020 when the Brewers expect to be a good team. It could be difficult to trade Braun right now, but it may be impossible to trade him after his 10/5 rights kick in. The Brewers aren’t going to get multiple top 100 prospects for Braun, but that’s okay. Their value may even come in the form of MLB players that they would then flip over the next season or two (Yasiel Puig was the big rumored name in that too-late waiver deal), and that’s okay too. The main value in dealing him now comes with opening up another outfield spot in Milwaukee when all their prospects are arriving over the next two seasons.
The Brewers are talking as if Braun will be back and that they’re fine with it. Privately, my hope is that they are not fine with it and still have every intention of trading him before the season. He’s been a great player, and he’s still a good player, but dealing him now gives them much more flexibility down the road when they’ll really want it.