It’s no secret that the Dodgers have struggled to hit lefties since the start of 2016. Because of this, they have been linked to many hitters for a while now, but one stands out among the rest.
If the Dodgers were to reach the Fall Classic for the first time in 29 years, they’d have to overcome the obstacle of hitting southpaws. As a team this season, they have an abysmal .612 collective OPS against left-handed pitchers, after a league-worst .622 OPS in 2016. Their struggles have been well-documented so there’s no need to delve into them any deeper.
This problem stems mainly from having a left-heavy lineup. Thus, during the offseason, the front office traded for Logan Forsythe and signed veteran Franklin Gutierrez, in hopes of bolstering the balance of their lineup. They are nice additions but they have not changed anything yet. Forsythe is doing his job thus far with an .888 OPS off left-handers, but it hasn’t affected the team, while Gutierrez just recently got placed on the 10-day DL.
So the Dodgers are back to needing another impactful right-handed bat. One name that has been floating around consistently since last season is Ryan Braun. Yes, the same Ryan Braun who stole the 2011 MVP from then-Dodger Matt Kemp by cheating, and the same guy who continuously bashed and discredited the urine-collector during his drug-scandal saga.
So morally it wouldn’t be right if the Dodgers were to land Braun. However, even if he isn’t my first choice, it’s been almost four years since his suspension and he would be an upgrade in the outfield. He’s off to a slow start in the batting average department this season (.212), but his other numbers across the board are good. His OBP is .366 and he is slugging .485 with three home runs. It’s still very early in the season, so his numbers should improve to the norm eventually.
Plus, the Dodgers would not be trading for his 2017 numbers but rather his past performances. Last season Braun hit .305/.365/.538 with 30 home runs and in 2015 he hit .285/.356/.498 with 25 home runs. What’s even more important is that he absolutely raked off of southpaws. In his 122 at-bats against them last season he slugged .344/.411/.598 with eight home runs. In his 120 at-bats during 2015 he hit .317/.407/.550 with six home runs.
In Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+) he ranked 21st last season, ahead of players such as Christain Yelich, Brian Dozier, Manny Machado, Charlie Blackmon, Nolan Arenado, Carlos Correa, and our very own Justin Turner.
With recent reports of both teams in contact with each other, it’s fair to question just how likely is a deal with both teams? Setting aside Braun’s baggage and considering that he “seems” to be clean, you’re probably wondering why the Dodgers haven’t traded for him yet, especially considering how close they were to getting him last season.
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Well firstly, it’s more complicated than we may all think. The Milwaukee Brewers’ asking price may have increased or the Dodgers may have seen something that gave them doubt. It might not even be any of those.
Then there are the obvious problems: age and money. Braun is 33-years-old and is due $76 million through his age-36 season in 2020. There’s also a mutual $15 million option in 2021 with a $4 million buyout. So ya, that’s a lot of money for an aging outfielder.
Defensively he can play both corner outfield positions, but he’s played most of his career in left field and is a better defender there than he is in right field. However, it’s fair to worry about his loss of athleticism as he continues to age. He should still be able to provide some solid defense, but it’s his bat that would make up for his defensive shortcomings and serve as an upgrade over the current options Los Angeles has patrolling left field at the moment.
The toughest part of all this is weighing all these facts and actually making the decision. Do the Dodgers want to be on the books for all of his contract? This should lower the asking price in terms of player return. However, the Dodger front office is trying to lower payroll, and have done so each season under the Friedman regime. So if they don’t want to pay, it would mean the Brewers eat a portion of Braun’s contract. This would cause the asking price to increase.
You can’t forget the emotional aspect to this either. For baseball reasons they may not put much stock into it. However, most Dodger fans don’t have much of a liking for Braun (to put it generously), so does the front office want to risk angering a passionate fan base? The Dodgers definitely have the pieces to make the trade happen; it’s just not that easy.
If we were talking just about 2017, then this deal might almost be a no-brainer. Braun would improve the Dodgers’ World Series chances mightily because he is an excellent and much-needed middle-of-the-order bat that would help significantly vs. southpaws. However, you have to balance short-term implications with the long-term implications and baggage. Because of that, I’m not sure if there’s a correct answer. I’m just glad I’m not the one making the decision.