We are just under two weeks away from the MLB Winter Meetings, and the Brewers have one big franchise player on their plate that could be a big topic: Ryan Braun. The outfielder had a resurgent year. After a couple of injury-plagued seasons, the slugger achieved highs in HR, AVG, SLG and more that he has not reached since 2012, when he finished second in the MVP voting. That resurgence and what’s now shaping up to be a cost-saving contract could help propel him to the top of most teams’ target lists, and this season could be the Brewers last season to trade Braun for several reasons.
1. The Free Agent Market is Terrible
Easily the top offensive free agent on the market right now is Yoenis Cespedes. The Mets slugger made $27.5 MM last year and will likely come out with something close to that but over a longer period of time this year. If you look at Cespedes’ numbers though, they compare right against Braun. Yoenis is 31 and hit .280/.354/.530 with 31 HRs, 86 RBI, 3 SB, 134 wRC+ and a 3.2 WAR. Braun’s numbers in his age 33 season? .305/.365/.538 with 30 HRs, 91 RBI, 19 SB, 133 wRC+ and a 3.2 WAR. Meanwhile Braun only cost $20 MM for the Brewers in 2016.
You could make the argument that Edwin Encanarcion is actually the best free agent. The Blue Jays slugger hit .263/.357/.529 with 42 HR, 127 RBI, 2 SB, 134 wRC+ and a 3.9 WAR showing he has some value above either Braun or Cespedes. The problem with Encanarcion is that he is limited to first base and honestly probably shouldn’t even be playing there. All three players played with negative defensive value according the FanGraphs, but Edwin was the worst by far. He’s also 10 months older than Braun.
After that, the list gets substantially worse, with a big drop in offensive production to Dexter Fowler, Mark Trumbo and batting enigma Justin Turner.
My point? You could easily argue that Braun is just as valuable as any hitter on the free agent market at this point in time. Encanarcion and Cespedes are similar ages to Braun and will likely make more than $20 MM a year while also costing a draft pick. Braun is a fixed cost and very productive, albeit with risks of his own such as injury.
2. He’s Very Close to Having Full No Trade Protection
Worried about trading Brauny now with his limited no-trade clause? Well, with another year of service, the former All-Star triggers his 10-and-5 rights. For those of you who aren’t familiar with that scenario, any player who has ten years of MLB service time and at least five consecutive years of service time with one MLB franchise can veto a trade to any MLB team. So right now, Ryan can be traded to a reported six MLB teams without approval. After this season, that list immediately goes to zero.
Ryan Braun is an injury risk. We all know this. He’s very tough and has a great capacity to play through those injuries, but they are scary. These chronic injuries to his thumb, back and nagging oblique problems have been shown to limit his ability to produce. That means there’s a decent chance we could see his numbers dip again in 2017. It’s important to capitalize on max value, and 2016 might be the last time Braun demonstrates max value.
If he isn’t traded, Braun can still provide solid value to the organization while it attempts to find its way back into relevance. I, personally, wouldn’t mind keeping Ryan Braun. There’s a good chance that the market won’t evolve the way David Stearns wants it to, and if it doesn’t he shouldn’t trade Braun just to trade him.