2020 is the final guaranteed year of Ryan Braun’s contract, and the longtime Brewers slugger hinted last January that he could potentially retire at season’s end. However, in comments today to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Todd Rosiak and other reporters Braun said “I feel like it’s more likely that I play another year than I anticipated a few months back.”
Both the shorter 60-game schedule and the ability to serve as a designated hitter are contributing to Braun’s mindset. “For me personally, playing a smaller number of games is something that’s beneficial,” Braun said, and “where I’m at in my career, it’s very appealing to me to have the option to DH for a decent percentage of my at-bats.” Though no decision has been made about whether or not the DH will remain in the National League beyond the 2020 season, it has been widely speculated that MLB could adopt the DH across both leagues in 2021 pending another single-year deal between the owners and players, and then from 2022 and beyond depending on the new Collective Bargaining Agreement.
A universal DH would obviously be a boon to older players like Braun, who turns 37 in November. An outfielder for much of his career, Braun has missed his share of time to the injured list due to back and leg injuries, and was originally slated for part-time first base duty (as well as some time in the outfield) for the Brew Crew back when the 2020 season was expected to proceed as scheduled.
Now, Braun projects to get the bulk of Milwaukee’s DH at-bats, which could perhaps lead to a late-career surge. While Braun’s injuries have somewhat limited his production over the last three seasons, he has still been an above-average bat (111 wRC+, 112 OPS+) over 1380 PA from 2017-19, hitting .270/.331/.488 with 59 home runs.
If Braun does want to play next year, of course, the next hurdle could be in finding a team. Braun and the Brewers share a $15MM mutual option on his services for 2021 and, like most mutual options, it is a near-certainty to be declined. While the Brewers wouldn’t want Braun at a $15MM price tag, however, Rosiak notes that the two sides could work out a less expensive one-year contract for Braun to return for his 15th Major League season. The x-factor is the complete unknown that is the 2020-21 free agent class, as it remains to be seen how teams will operate in the wake of a season that saw such a massive decline in revenues, and whether non-superstar free agents will see a real squeeze on contracts.