Franchise icon Ryan Braun is entering the final guaranteed season of the contract extension he signed with the Brewers nearly a decade ago. Now 36, the former MVP is nearing the end of a storied career. In fact, it’s not out of the question that 2020 could prove to be his final season, he acknowledged to reporters (including Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel) today at Fan Fest.
“I don’t take for granted this could be my last year playing baseball,” Braun told reporters. “It’s definitely a possibility,” he elaborated when asked if he would contemplate retirement after the 2020 season. “We’ll see how the year goes, see where I’m at physically. Obviously, my family’s always my top priority, so we’ll see how everything’s going then.”
Needless to say, that’s hardly a declaration that he’ll certainly hang up the spikes. He added that he doesn’t anticipate making a final decision until after this season, when he can reevaluate his health and family situation as well as the team’s outlook. Braun’s contract does come with a $15MM mutual option for 2021, but mutual options are rarely exercised. Typically, the price point is either high enough that the team would prefer to buy the player out or low enough that the player would rather explore free agency. In Braun’s case, it seems likely the Brewers would buy Braun out for $4MM rather than exercise their end.
That’s not to say, however, that Braun won’t be a key factor on Milwaukee’s 2020 outlook. He’s coming off a strong 2019 effort, in which he hit .285/.343/.505 (117 wRC+) in 508 plate appearances. The club anticipates him taking a similar number of plate appearances this season, he told reporters today. The longtime corner outfielder confirmed that some of that work figures to come at first base, where he’s played just 18 career games (all in 2018). Milwaukee’s corner outfield mix is crowded, with offseason signee Avisaíl García joining MVP candidate Christian Yelich and Ben Gamel. Yelich, notably, is at full strength for spring training after a knee injury ended his 2019 season in September, he told reporters today (including Haudricourt).
Today’s comments from Braun are perhaps unsurprising; that a 36-year-old player may at least entertain thoughts of retirement after the season won’t raise many eyebrows. Nevertheless, it’s notable to hear Braun verbalize the possibility. He is, as mentioned, still a productive hitter. In all fourteen of his MLB seasons, he’s been above-average at the dish by measure of wRC+. He’s certainly unlikely to return to the vaunted offensive force he was in his prime, but Braun still figures to be a valuable player in 2020. Should he again produce at the plate, he’d no doubt draw interest from teams next offseason, if he chooses to keep playing.