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Making sense of the rumored Ryan Braun trade

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The Dodgers want Ryan Braun for obvious reasons, but why would the Brewers want Yasiel Puig?

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It’s been a couple weeks since the last good rumor. It’s been over a month since the good stuff, the pure, uncut Twitter tar. I’m not sure how you’ve been doing, but it’s been a little shaky over here. It’s gonna be a long time until November. All we have is this stupid baseball to keep us occupied.

And yet we have a rumor. Unlike most September rumors, this one wasn’t scraped up in desperation. This is an artisanal rumor, and it’s glorious. We heard just after the trade deadline that the Brewers won the waiver claim for Yasiel Puig, and that they were talking with the Dodgers about a swap that included Ryan Braun, but they couldn’t quite make it work before the deadline. Which is a mighty fine rumor, especially for September 2.

According to Bob Nightengale, however, it’s even better than a fine rumor. It’s a fait accompli:

In 2017, Braun will likely don the traditional blue and white colors of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

That’s not your typical rumor. That has a sense of finality to it, as if the only stumbling block to the deal was the September deadline to get Braun in time for the Dodgers’ postseason roster.

Things can change, certainly, and there’s always the chance that Nightengale got it wrong, somehow. But that’s not the point of a rumor. The point of a rumor is to speculate and wishcast and visit the multiverse. We need to figure out just how this kind of deal would make sense.

The trade from the Dodgers’ perspective

The Dodgers would get a good hitter, and they would give up a disgruntled enigma. By adding Brandon McCarthy’s salary, they would even out the monetary advantage that comes with having Puig’s contract.

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No, that’s it. That’s the trade from the Dodgers’ perspective, and it looks pretty sweet. They would get their middle-of-the-order slugger, and they wouldn’t have to pay $150 million like they would for Yoenis Cespedes. They wouldn’t have to gamble on a player having a down season and possibly on an irreversible slide, like Jose Bautista. They would exchange the slugger they want Puig to be for the slugger that Braun actually is. He fits the Dodgers’ win-now window perfectly.

If not Braun, what are the Dodgers getting for Puig? Prospects? They don’t need more prospects, not unless they’re flipping them to a third team. A starting pitcher who can stay healthy? Sure, but anyone of quality is going to be a hot, hot commodity, and any team giving up such a pitcher probably would be interested in something much different than Puig, whose main selling point is that he’s cheap for two more years, but only two more years. He’s not a rebuilding piece, not a reloading piece, which means he wouldn’t excite most of the teams willing to dump a quality starting pitcher.

An established star — especially one they could get without substantially increasing their current payroll commitments — would be the best possible return for Puig, even if they had to give up prospects in the deal.

The trade from the Brewers’ perspective

I come here not to criticize, but understand. Not all rebuilding teams are the same. The Tigers made people giggle when they spent money on Magglio Ordonez and Pudge Rodriguez, but it turns out they had a plan. The 100-loss 2013 Astros were an error away from the ALCS just two seasons later. Don’t laugh at any team with a two-year plan. And considering that Puig still might have cornerstone talent buried somewhere in him, he would be the kind of player it might sense to target.

The inclusion of Brandon McCarthy to even out salaries would make sense in this scenario, too. If the Brewers really want to contend, they’ll need starting pitching. Trading Braun for prospects would be one way to get that, except it would kick the can down the street, most likely. Going from a trade to Michael Fulmer in one season is the exception, not the rule. There are usually growing pains.

It’s here where you realize that McCarthy at $23 million over two years would be a bargain in the upcoming free agent market, and that the Brewers might prefer him to whatever Jorge De La Rosa-type pitchers they could unearth for a similar price. It would be logical for a team planning on contending in 2017 and/or 2018 to look at a return of Puig and McCarthy as a way to add talent in two roster spots at the expense of one.

Also, I would assume that there would be prospects coming back to the Brewers in this scenario, which would give them a cake-and-eat-it scenario. Braun is owed $80 million over the next four years, which is less than it would take to get him (or a comparable player) on the free agent market. Other teams will be interested, even with his, uh, checkered public relations past. The Brewers could get some serious prospects for him, possibly more than the Dodgers could for Puig. So now the Brewers have their low-cost Braun replacement, a possible contributor for the rotation in the short term, and prospects. Not bad.

If you think the Brewers are going to contend in the next two years.

Again, that’s not something to guffaw about. They have a top-10 farm system according to Baseball America. It’s top-five according to John Sickels, and those rankings were before they added oodles of talent in the Jonathan Lucroy and Will Smith trades. They unearthed Jonathan Villar this season, and they’re mixing and matching several 20-somethings who could contribute in future seasons. Internally, they might have a 2018 target, with goals to push that into 2017 with a little unexpected good fortune.

Is it the kind of team and roster that would make a team exchange their last, best remaining trade chip for short-term help, though? Even with the prospects the Dodgers might give, it doesn’t feel like it. Not with the Cubs maintaining a fortress of mid-20s superstars and consuming the universe piece by piece for the foreseeable future. Exchanging three years of Braun for two years of Puig, a short-term rotation solution, and a couple of B or C prospects doesn’t seem like the best fit.

And that’s how you make sense of the rumored Ryan Braun trade. You get why the Dodgers would do it. You have to squint a lot more to see the Brewers’ perspective.

Except there’s a twist. Braun has a no-trade clause that allows him to block any deal that’s not to the Diamondbacks, Angels, Dodgers, Marlins, Padres, and Giants. In May of next year, he’ll be a 10-and-5 player who can block a trade to any team. He has leverage.

"I think it would be inappropriate for me to get into any detail about any of that stuff,’’ Braun told USA TODAY Sports. "Obviously, I live in Los Angeles in the offseason. I grew up a Dodger fan. When those conversations started, I think it was an interesting position for me to be in.

Play that back for me one more time.

Obviously, I live in Los Angeles in the offseason. I grew up a Dodger fan.

Ah. If the Brewers want nothing but prospects for Braun, they’re not going to get them from the Giants, at least not top quality ones. The Marlins’ system might be even thinner. The Angels’ system is unquestionably the thinnest in baseball. The Padres have the prospects but seem like an unlikely fit for Braun. That leaves the Diamondbacks and Dodgers as the teams from which the Brewers can extract prospects.

Now it makes more sense. And now you can understand why the Brewers would play for the short and long term in a Braun deal instead of trying to maximize the quality of the prospects coming back. They might not have a choice.

According to one rumormonger, Ryan Braun is likely to be on the Dodgers at this time next year. After looking at the fine print, it makes far too much sense not to happen. The only question is if Milwaukee would be the final destination for Puig after all. If the deal happens, which it still might not.

It's a fascinating rumor, though. By September standards, it's pure 80-grade material, a rumor with real Hall of Fame potential. It's far more than us rumor junkies ever could have asked for.