What if Ryan Braun never moved from third base?


In a move already seven years old, nearly forgotten by fans, the Milwaukee Brewers decided to move Ryan Braun from third base to left field. And overall, the transition was relatively seamless, other than a few minor expected bumps and bruises along the way. But what if this roster move had never been made?

Today, we’ll examine the ripple effect caused by this apparent minor change, and how this one move changed the team for at least the next four seasons.

Before we begin, I must emphasize that it was the Brewers’ decision to acquire center fielder Mike Cameron that launched Braun’s move in the first place. By signing the 35-year-old Cameron, Milwaukee was prompted to move center fielder Bill Hall. But instead of moving him to left field, the club decided to place Hall at third base, allowing to move Braun to left.

For the purpose of our hypothetical, we’re going to assume this acquisition never happened.

Let’s recap. It’s the offseason before the 2008 baseball season. With Braun still at third base, the Brewers are in need of a left fielder to join Bill Hall and Corey Hart in the outfield. In reality, Milwaukee had signed Cameron for a deal worth nearly $7 million including incentives (via Carrie Muskat at MLB.com). However, actual depth in the left field free agent market is slim.

Andruw Jones was certainly too expensive, as he later signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers on a two-year, $36 million deal. Because of this, the Brewers likely settle on the next best option, 30-year-old Milton Bradley on a one-year, $5 million deal.

As luck would have it, the 2008 campaign would be an All-Star year for Bradley. While only appearing in 126 games that season, the outfielder would hit .321/.436/.563 with 22 home runs and 77 runs batted in.

For reference, those in Milwaukee will always recognize 2008 as the CC Sabathia year, where the club nearly gutted the farm system in sending four prospects in exchange for a half-season rental on the mammoth starting pitcher.

Again in reality, following an NL Wild Card berth, the Brewers decided to pick up a ridiculous $10 million club option on Cameron. Meanwhile, our new friend Milton Bradley had signed a three-year, $30 million deal with the Chicago Cubs.

But had he been on Milwaukee’s lineup card, I’m sure Bradley would have stayed, considering the Brewers paid Cameron the same amount per annum.

We won’t linger too long on the 2009 campaign. As the Cameron-Bradley deals are essentially a wash on the team payroll books, not too much would have changed. Both CC Sabathia and Ben Sheets left to free agency, allowing the team to sign veteran closer Trevor Hoffman en route to a 80-82 season without playoffs in Milwaukee.

One quick note, however. The Brewers had claimed third baseman Casey McGehee off waivers this year. It was McGehee’s performance which allowed Milwaukee to trade Bill Hall mid-season. But with Hall in center field in this scenario, I doubt this acquisition even occurs and Hall finishes the season with the team.

In 2010, however, is where keeping Braun at third really starts to take shape on the rest of the roster. With Bill Hall now leaving, the logical move for Milwaukee would still be to trade struggling shortstop J.J. Hardy to Minnesota in exchange for Carlos Gomez.

Believe me, I’ve been racking my brain trying to figure out a scenario where Lorenzo Cain becomes the starting center fielder, but it simply isn’t feasible as Cain was essentially still a Double-A player who only received time towards the end of the season as trade bait.

So in terms of batters, not too much has changed. The outfield now includes Bradley, Gomez, and Hart. And all else remains the same in the infield, where Alcides Escobar now starts at shortstop in place of Hardy.

It is the pitching rotation where we see the most change. Since the club is still paying Bradley an average of $10 million a year for the next two seasons, instead of a Braun-McGehee combination that would have been less than $2 million combined, the Brewers would have difficulty signing both Randy Wolf and reliever LaTroy Hawkins.

In reality, Wolf had signed a three-year, $29.75 million deal. Add on Hawkins’ $3.25 million and the team payroll would easily eclipse $100 million. And while I’d love to say the club takes a chance on this increased payroll, there’s no way a small market team can realistically afford this.

If the team decides they truly need to bring in another starting pitcher, the best option now is to sign either Jon Garland or Erik Bedard on a one-year deal to come in as a fifth starter. If not, the rotation wouldn’t be in terrible shape with Jeff Suppan, Dave Bush, a young Yovani Gallardo, Manny Parra, and Chris Narveson.

Losing Wolf would hurt the team slightly, as the then-34-year-old pitcher brought in 13 wins on a 4.17 ERA for the club that year. Meanwhile, our less expensive option in Jon Garland ended up with 14 wins and a 3.47 ERA.

And Erik Bedard ended up pitching so poorly he was sent down to Triple-A and never made it back to the majors until the following year; so Milwaukee could easily have gone one of two directions on this one.

But either way, the Brewers are still in line to complete two huge transactions for the 2011 season. First, by trading minor league infielder and former first-round draft choice Brett Lawrie for pitcher Shawn Marcum.

And since Lorenzo Cain wasn’t able to start before Gomez’s arrival, Milwaukee is still able to package him, Escobar, reliever Jeremy Jeffress, and minor-league pitcher Jake Odorizzi in exchange for pitcher Zack Greinke and shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt.

In the grand scheme of things, Braun moving to left field didn’t change all that much. As a part of our hypothetical, the club brought in Bradley instead of Cameron and were unable to sign both Wolf and Hawkins. Led by a pitching rotation of Geinke, Marcum, and Gallardo, I’m confident Milwaukee still would have made the playoffs that year.

In fact, they didn’t even truly need Randy Wolf in the NLDS, as he was taken out of the game after a mere three innings in a 10-6 beatdown by the Arizona Diamondbacks.

I must admit, however, that my Milton Bradley deal would end up burning Milwaukee. Following that All-Star performance in 2008, Bradley only managed to hit a .226 average over the next three seasons. Combine this with the fact that guy is a hot head. The 2011 season alone saw two ejections within a 10-day period, along with a bad reputation with the media.

It eventually got to the point where Bradley would wear earplugs at games to block out the heckling and jeering from fans (via Craig Calcaterra at NBCSports.com).

Overall, one can determine that Braun’s move to left field was a good decision for the Brewers. While the move didn’t amount to much in terms of a roster ripple effect, it certainly saved some future headaches and payroll concerns.

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