Ryan Braun was already into the fourth year of an eight-year, $45MM extension with the Brewers when he signed another extension that theoretically made him a Brewer for life. That deal, signed in April 2011, only just began this season — a five-year, $105MM extension covering the 2016-20 seasons that also includes a $15MM mutual option for 2021 (that can be bought out for $4MM).
The Brewers reached the NLCS in 2011 on the strength of Braun’s NL MVP numbers, though it’s been a rougher ride for both player and team ever since. Braun’s MVP was called into question after he tested positive for PEDs following the season, though that positive test was overturned in very controversial fashion. The outfielder then did face suspension for his part in the Biogenesis PED scandal, accepting a 65-game ban that prematurely cut short his 2013 season. Beyond the disciplinary issues, Braun has also had his share of injury problems, including a nagging nerve injury in his right thumb, a bad back that required surgery last offseason and some wrist and neck soreness this season.
So with Braun now in his age-32 season, there’s no question that he carries a fair amount of baggage for potential trade suitors. Beyond the salary, injury history and PED history, there’s also the fact that Braun wields a great deal of control over his movement via a 23-team no-trade clause. For 2016, the only six teams not on his list are the Angels, Diamondbacks, Dodgers, Giants, Marlins and Padres.
With all of this in mind, Braun is nonetheless one of baseball’s top trade candidates as we approach the August 1 deadline because he can still flat-out hit. He has cooled off a bit in June after a blazing-hot start, yet Braun is still hitting .325/.381/.557 with 13 homers in 270 plate appearances this season. When healthy, Braun is still a very dangerous bat who could improve virtually any contender’s lineup.
The Brewers find themselves in something of a kingmaker’s position this deadline, as they not only have Braun, but also perhaps the single biggest trade chip of all in catcher Jonathan Lucroy. I examined Lucroy’s trade market earlier in June and speculated that Milwaukee GM David Stearns could look to kill two birds with one stone by packaging Braun and Lucroy in the same trade; Lucroy’s team-friendly contract could make a team more willing to absorb all of Braun’s deal, leaving the Brew Crew with tons of future payroll flexibility.
Owner Mark Attanasio, however, is reportedly more focused on adding blue chip young talent to his organization than he is about getting Braun’s contract off the books. There are also relatively few teams that could realistically meet what would still be a substantial asking price for a Braun/Lucroy combo. It’s a fun idea from a blockbuster standpoint, though it’s probably not in the cards.
Focusing just on Braun, then, let’s go through the teams that could use corner outfield help. Braun shifted back to left field this season after playing right primarily in 2014-15, though his defensive metrics as a right fielder (minus-9 Defensive Runs Saved and -7.7 UZR/150) aren’t pretty. He could return to the position in a pinch with a new team, though it’s rather clear that Braun is more serviceable in left, where the metrics are split (31 DRS but -4.0 UZR/150 over his career in left field) on his glove.
Let’s begin with the six teams exempt from Braun’s no-trade list…