Braun opens up about future in radio interview
Veteran slugger says he'd likely veto deal anywhere but to Dodgers
MILWAUKEE -- If the Brewers try to move Ryan Braun to another team before the end of his contract, it's "in all likelihood" Dodgers or bust, he suggested earlier this week in a radio interview.
But if they someday decide to move him to a new position, the options are not as limited.
"As long as they don't want to put me back at third, I'm in," Braun told Greg Matzek of WTMJ-AM, the flagship of the Brewers Radio Network. "I was never a big fan of third. I was really good at short, though. I always tell [manager Craig Counsell] that I can play shortstop, and I still actually really believe that.
"If they want me to play first, if it's something that's going to help our team at any point, whether it's just for a few of games depending on what our personnel may be, I'm not opposed to it by any means. If they approach me with that, I'm open to it."
For now, Braun is anchored in left field on a contract that guarantees $57 million through 2020. After three straight seasons of more than 500 at-bats, he was limited by calf and wrist injuries to 380 at-bats in 104 games in 2017 while hitting .268/.336/.487 with 17 home runs and 52 RBIs.
His .823 OPS in his age-33 season was the second-lowest of Braun's career, better only than the .777 OPS he posted in 2014 while playing through a nerve issue in his thumb that sapped his power. At the same time, right fielder Domingo Santana had a breakthrough at age-24, center fielder Keon Broxton posted the 13th season of 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases in franchise history despite Major League Baseball's highest strikeout rate, and outfield prospects Lewis Brinson and Brett Phillips made their Major League debuts amid solid Triple-A seasons. Brinson is the Brewers' top-rated prospect according to MLBPipeline.com, and Phillips is No. 12.
That combination of factors produced questions about Braun's future, beginning with one that has simmered for years now: Will the Brewers try to trade their longest-tenured player?
They were deep into trade talks with the Dodgers in August 2016 but couldn't strike a deal. In his Monday interview with WTMJ, Braun said the teams were still in contact this year during Spring Training.
That timing was significant, since Braun did not achieve 10-and-5 status -- players with 10 years of Major League service, including the past five with their current team -- until May. Since passing that threshold, Braun has veto rights over any trade.
"Frankly, in Spring Training, there were some more discussions with the Dodgers, which is in all likelihood the only team I would approve a trade to at any point," Braun said, "and then once the season started, there were never any conversations about any of that stuff. For me, my goal is to focus on the season. Stay present, stay in the moment. As long as we're winning, I wouldn't imagine there would be a situation in which we would have those discussions again. So it was good to be in a position where we weren't having those discussions. We were having a good season and winning games."
If the Brewers cannot trade him, would it make sense to clear an outfield spot for Brinson or Phillips by moving Braun back to the infield?
Perhaps someday, but the Brewers have left-handed hitter Eric Thames and right-handed hitter Jesus Aguilar under club control for at least two more seasons for a total of about $5.5 million in 2018 and $6.5 million in '19. The duo played the bulk of innings at first base last season, when Milwaukee ranked sixth in the Majors with a .905 OPS at that position.
Braun, disappointed with his own limited contributions, did say he took pride in doing other things to help the Brewers surprise the baseball world by contending for a postseason spot until the penultimate day of the regular season.
He said it was "very rewarding and fulfilling knowing how much I was able to help a lot of our young guys take a step forward, and figure out routines and processes that put them in a position to be successful. That allowed them to take steps forward in their career and be able to contribute to us having a better season than just about anyone anticipated us having. From a team perspective, that was very rewarding. But individually, I expect to be better and healthier next year."