LOS ANGELES -- What if Ryan Braun had become a Dodger?It almost happened in the summer of 2016, when the Brewers had discussions with the Dodgers about a deal that might have sent Braun to L.A. for Yasiel Puig, Brandon McCarthy and prospects. Just how close those talks came to
LOS ANGELES -- What if Ryan Braun had become a Dodger?
It almost happened in the summer of 2016, when the Brewers had discussions with the Dodgers about a deal that might have sent Braun to L.A. for Yasiel Puig, Brandon McCarthy and prospects. Just how close those talks came to fruition depends on who you ask. Ditto whether that was the only time a Braun-to-L.A. deal had legs.
"You know, I've thought about it," said Braun's dad, Joe, a fixture around Miller Park during his oldest son's 12 seasons with the Brewers. "On the other side, it's fantastic that he gets to experience this here with the team that drafted him.
"There's talk, conversation. I know there were conversations. How close was it? I'm not really even sure. I do know it's a blessing to be here with the Brewers."
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Ryan has said the same, describing himself as rejuvenated by the Brewers' push to the postseason. He is the only player remaining from Milwaukee's last postseason entry in 2011.
Had he become a Dodger, Braun would not have had to wait as long to play October baseball.
Braun-to-L.A. rumors have popped up many times in recent years, but the most serious were during the run-up to Aug. 31, 2016, the annual deadline for teams to acquire players and have them eligible for postseason play. The Dodgers, better against right-handed pitchers than lefties, were looking for a bat to help. Braun has long mashed southpaws.
According to a source at the time, the Brewers had claimed Puig off revocable trade waivers and were working on a deal, one iteration of which would have netted Puig and two prospects along with McCarthy, whose departing contract would have helped offset the Dodgers' luxury tax hit for adding Braun. It was serious enough that Braun remained at Miller Park with some teammates after one of the Brewers' games leading up to the deadline, believing the talks were hot.
At the time, Puig was at a nadir in his Dodgers career, having been demoted to Triple-A that summer. But he would have fit Milwaukee's rebuilding mindset, since he was 25 and signed for the next two-plus seasons for an affordable $14 million. The Brewers were in their first full season under general manager David Stearns, who was in the process of turning over half of Milwaukee's 40-man roster, and Braun was a valuable chip, in the midst of his best season since he was runner-up in 2012 National League MVP Award balloting.
How close did it come? Again, it depends on who you ask. The consensus of several sources is that it was the Dodgers who balked within the final half hour before the deadline.
Officials from both teams declined to reveal details.
The Dodgers did get catcher Carlos Ruiz from the Phillies that August, but they went into the postseason with an outfield that included Howie Kendrick and Puig hitting from the right side and Joc Pederson, Josh Reddick and Alvin Toles from the left. They fell to the eventual World Series champion Cubs in six games in the NL Championship Series, including losses in both of Cubs southpaw Jonathan Lester's starts.
"We've got a lot of deals that we talk about that don't happen. That would be a full-time job, thinking through 'what ifs,'" Dodgers GM Farhan Zaidi said. "We're constantly talking. Sometimes deals happen. Sometimes they don't. We just turn the page."
The Brewers, meanwhile, proceeded with Braun, whose contract is guaranteed through 2020. He was limited to 380 at-bats and 17 home runs in 2017 by a series of nagging injuries, which were surely part of the equation when Stearns decided to trade for Christian Yelich and sign Lorenzo Cain last offseason.
At the time, outsiders said the Brewers had "too many outfielders," even with a plan to use Braun at first base. But as the 2018 season wore on, Braun's first base mitt gathered dust. Domingo Santana, the primary right fielder entering the year, regressed and spent most of the season in the Minors. Braun posted a .782 OPS in the regular season, the second-lowest mark of his career, but he surged late in the season to an .859 OPS after July 31, including the postseason.
"I feel really good," Braun said last week. "I feel fortunate and thankful that I'm in this position, health-wise. I'd never take it for granted. But for anybody, when you have the adrenaline that's added this time of the year, it helps you feel better physically.
"I feel like I'm going on 25, not 35 right now."
Has Braun ever wondered what life might be like had he been traded to L.A.?
"I said that at the time, that it would be more meaningful for me to win here [in Milwaukee] than to go anywhere else and win maybe multiple championships," Braun said. "I meant it. I've been here for so long, I've been through so much, and I have such a special connection to the city, to the fans and to the organization. I honestly didn't think we'd be back in this position as quickly as we are."
For Braun, being traded to the Dodgers would have meant playing at home. He grew up in Granada Hills, and while he lives in Malibu now with his wife, Larisa, and their two young children, Joe Braun stayed put.
The Braun men -- Joe, Ryan and Ryan's younger brother, Steve, who played three seasons in Milwaukee's Minor League system from 2008-10 -- were avid baseball card collectors and spent many a Saturday morning perusing the bid board at The Baseball Card Company in Granada Hills, which sponsored the boys' PONY league teams and had Dodgers season tickets.
With that connection, the Brauns attended a dozen or so games per summer at Dodger Stadium, sitting on the third-base side during the Eric Karros-Mike Piazza era of Dodger baseball in the early-to-mid 1990s.
"They still have all of their cards," Joe said. "Ryan has always been very organized. Everything is placed just right. He's got thousands of cards. I think some of them still have the gum."
When the Brewers and Dodgers were talking trades, Ryan shared what he knew with his dad. When Joe isn't with the team, they talk at least every other day, often after games. Seeing his son traded to his hometown team would have been "cool," Joe said, but he has also grown fond of Milwaukee and expressed the same sentiment as his son, that seeing the Brewers reach the World Series would carry extra meaning.
"This is as rejuvenated and excited as I've seen him in a long time," Joe said. "I think September came around and the team started to get on that roll. They were within striking distance. Then they started to play fantastic, and their roll in September just kept carrying on, and here we are in October."
Joe is along for the ride. Maybe a Dodger Stadium memory or two will pop in his head as he takes in batting practice before Game 3.
"You look around, and any one of these kids has a chance to be down there, doing what Ryan is doing," Joe said. "It's been such a long time now. You start thinking about eventually, it will be over."
Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy and like him on Facebook.