Braun open to playing first base for Crew
Slugger could move to infield to ease outfield logjam following Cain, Yelich additions
MILWAUKEE -- With the Brewers suddenly flush with outfielders, Ryan Braun might be moving back to the infield -- at least on an occasional basis.
Braun is open to the idea of working at first base during Spring Training, general manager David Stearns said Friday after adding Christian Yelich via blockbuster trade and Lorenzo Cain via a club-record free-agent contract. It would not be a full-time move, but rather a mechanism to free up at-bats for the rest of the Brewers' outfield corps, currently led by Cain, Yelich and Domingo Santana.
"I think that's something we're open to exploring in Spring Training and seeing where it leads," Stearns said. "Obviously, it's challenging to change positions at the Major League level, but it's something that Ryan is open to exploring, so we'll see where that leads. That is a possibility."
Further trades could eliminate the need for such a move. The Brewers have shopped Santana and fellow outfielder Brett Phillips, for example, in a search for additional pitching depth. But for now, Braun-to-first is on the table.
"As we saw this offseason evolving a little bit and saw some of the potential acquisitions, it's a conversation that we began," Stearns said. "Ryan's interests are to help this team however he can. He wants to win. He knows we just acquired two very talented players who are going to help us win. Ryan wants to put the Brewers in the best position to succeed."
Braun played shortstop at the University of Miami and moved to third in the professional ranks, including a rookie season with the Brewers in 2007 in which he won National League Rookie of the Year honors despite tying for the Major League lead with 26 errors, mostly from errant throws.
He subsequently moved to left field, then to right, then back to left to accommodate other roster moves. Now 34, with three guaranteed years left on a contract that is difficult to transfer, plus a lengthening medical report, Braun could occasionally be on the move again.
Neither Stearns nor Brewers manager Craig Counsell raised health as a factor on Friday, but it stands to reason that playing some games at first base would ease the strain on his body. Braun had back surgery two offseasons ago, and he was limited to 104 games and 380 at-bats in 2017 by calf and wrist injuries.
How Braun's addition to the first-base mix would impact the Brewers' capable incumbents remains to be seen. Eric Thames hit 31 home runs and ranked No. 21 in the NL with 124 wRC+ last season, and Jesus Aguilar hit 16 home runs with a 112 wRC+ in 311 plate appearances as Thames' platoonmate.
"We've got a lot of good choices, certainly. They'll be tough choices, but there will be a lot of good choices," Counsell said. "So that's how I'm looking at it. … I think in Ryan's case, this year, we're going to explore [playing multiple positions]. He's moved around the past from left field to right field. This is a bigger challenge that we may undertake here, and we recognize that, but it's part of what kind of opens up that puzzle to some of the at-bats."