“Round Robinson”: It’s Time to Choose Brains over Braun
“When Ryan Braun returned from his PED-induced 65-game suspension, his forecast and subsequent ranking for 2014 was a source of contention for many fantasy pundits, and rightly so. While some had him sneaking into the first round of drafts, others wouldn’t even put him in the top-40. No one quite knew what to expect from a man who went from two straight 30/30 seasons in 2011 and 2012 to just 9 HRs and 4 SBs in his 61 games last year, but most outlooks seemed favorable. Although there was some doubt about how returning from such a long layoff would affect the 30-year old slugger, we seemed to welcome him back to our lineups just like Milwaukee fans did, with open arms.
We were wrong. If you invested in Braun, it’s time to make him someone else’s headache.”
As of this past Monday, that was my take on Braun. Unwavering. Definitive. Absolute. Naturally, my own personal Murphy’s law went into effect on Tuesday and Braun did this. Now, I could shrug off the first blast. It’s not like I thought Braun would go homerless for the rest of his career or anything. Even the second bomb barely got me to sit up and take notice considering the way Kyle Kendrick served that one up on a silver platter. But when he parked a Brad Lincoln slider in the left field seats for his third round-tripper of the night, it was time to reassess.
We all saw the warning signs. After Sunday, he had managed just three singles through 20 ABs in five games to start the season. This would hardly be a reason for concern as other top picks have also struggled, and some do every season. But combine that with the news that Braun is still suffering the effects of that thumb injury that caused him to miss over a month last season before his suspension was handed down, that he was struggling to grip the ball and, of utmost importance to us, the bat, and we had to start inching our fingers closer to that panic button.
That was the narrative as the Brewers walked into Philly for a midweek series. Braun subsequently walked out with a 3-game line reading 6-12, 3 HR, 10 RBI, 5 runs, and 1 big smirk. There isn’t a whole lot of worry about his thumb after a stretch like that, is there? The Milwaukee training staff had been experimenting with different pads and even Ron Roenicke noted that Braun was trying out some different approaches at the plate. He must have put it all together again. This is the proof his backers have been waiting for. He’s back! Hallelujah!
Slow down there, Sparky. He didn’t wave a magic wand and heal up all of a sudden. That thumb injury is still there, and it’s not going anywhere anytime soon. And if there’s a four-letter word for me when it comes to injuries, it’s “lingering”. I don’t root for injuries in this game and I would hope no one else does either. If you do, watch out for that bolt of lightning coming your way. But when an injury does inevitably beset one of my players, I always hope it’s the kind where there is a definitive timetable for recovery and he can return to the field at 100%. This isn’t the case with Braun, and much like that mosquito you saw on your leg and think you swatted, you can hope it doesn’t come back to bite you, but you’re never really going to be sure.
If you are a Braun owner, I say eliminate all doubt. It’s time to send him packing (that 3-HR game will make for a wonderful going-away present) and let another owner deal with the baggage. I’ll take a chance on a guy bouncing back from or dealing with an injury, just not when I’m expecting second-round production out of him. The trick now is replacing those numbers that you were hoping for when you selected him. I’ve got three scenarios below that will help you pull it off and maybe even get a little more back in the long run.
- Scenario #1: An eye for an eye – This is the simplistic approach to things. You’re trading an OF which means you need an OF in return. Braun for who? That is the question. Guys who go .300/.375/.500 with 30/20 potential don’t grow on trees, and they’re even harder to pry away from the owners who control them. I doubt you could get Bryce Harper straight up for Braun, even with Harper’s rather lukewarm start. You could try to do Braun for Puig or Justin Upton, but then you’re banking on either one of them reaching their full potential and putting up numbers across a full season that they never have before. I wholeheartedly believe both of them will have a better year than Braun, but I don’t think you’re maximizing value here the way you should be. Any trade where there is guaranteed to be a definitive winner and a definitive loser usually makes deal-making difficult for both parties. So let’s keep looking.
- Scenario #2: Address the position scarcity- When you look to swap inter-positionally, this is when options start to open up. Before I go any further, I want you to stop what you are doing, open another tab and pull up the roster of the team who has Josh Hamilton. This is your first option hands down. If you happen to be rostering Hamilton as well as Braun, then my apologies. I promise I’m not trying to pile on here, but you might want to go back and check your fantasy baseball karma. Assuming it is another team with the hampered halo, you can be pretty sure this owner will be just a little more prone to trading for a big OF bat than the others. Next, check his middle infield positions and hope you see one of the following names: Jason Kipnis or Ian Desmond. If you do, jackpot. No? Eh, it was worth a shot. Still, these are the two names I would be targeting. Are either one of them going to directly replace what you were hoping Braun would give you? Probably not. But odds are you’ll be able to find a replacement OF with a little more category juice than your run-of-the-mill MI (no hard feelings there Mike Aviles). Both can be strikeout-prone so the ratios are not top shelf, but to have bankable 20/20 production without killing your average is a valuable commodity nonetheless. You’ll probably have to throw in a little sweetener to make the Kipnis deal, but it’s worth the investment either way.
- Scenario #3: Tighten up your (Brandon) Belt – This is where I swing for the fences. I’m telling you to target the hottest 1B in the game whose value has never been higher. Hardly seems like sage trade advice and normally you’d be right. This would be a quintessential example of buying high, save for one thing: I don’t think this is the high for Brandon Belt. In fact, I think Belt is just scratching the surface of what he could be. In short, I believe. In 2013, Belt put up a .289/.360/.481 line with 17 HRs and 67 RBI. Those numbers look very similar to the 2012 line of another young slugger. That year a .286/.359/.490 triple slash to go with 20 HRs and 82 RBI was posted by none other than Paul Goldschmidt. We all know what Goldy went on to do last year, and while I think the 36 HRs and 125 RBI might be just a bit out of reach, the .300+ AVG is certainly attainable. Pair that with 28 HRs and 96 RBI I’m predicting and you’ve got not only a huge upgrade to your INF or UTIL spot, but what I believe could very well be a top-6 1B when it’s all said and done. Because of his low ranking to start the season, odds are you’d still be able to grab an OF of value in return. Something in the neighborhood of Braun and Ryan Howard for Belt and Desmond Jennings (or a comparable OF who can contribute speed) is very possible right now, but maybe not much longer.