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The San Francisco Giants are Interested in Ryan Braun

May 25, 2015; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Milwaukee Brewers right fielder Ryan Braun (8) hits a 2-run homer in the fifth inning against the San Francisco Giants at Miller Park. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
May 25, 2015; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Milwaukee Brewers right fielder Ryan Braun (8) hits a 2-run homer in the fifth inning against the San Francisco Giants at Miller Park. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
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Last month, we explored ways for the Giants to improve their outfield, most notably by bringing in someone to supplant Angel Pagan. Atop the list of potential suitors/trade targets: Milwaukee left fielder Ryan Braun. On Monday, word emerged that the Giants have expressed interest in Braun.

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The need for outfield help began with Angel Pagan’s hamstring injury, which reminded everyone that Pagan’s body regularly breaks down. The need escalated with Hunter Pence’s hamstring injury, which is sidelining him for two months or so. And finally, the need has shot through the roof with Jarrett Parker and Mac Williamson looking overmatched during their brief trials in the Giants lineup.

It’s no secret that the rebuilding Brewers are willing to trade the veteran Braun, who is in the midst of his best season in four years and is probably the best bat on the market. But as trade speculation has swirled, various stories reporting Braun’s availability also are casting aspersions on his value, questioning whether he team will want him due to: the PED fiasco in which he proved to be a huge jerk (for lack of a better term), his injury history, and his contract.

I’m not going to defend Braun’s character, but the positive PED test was in 2011, and five years later he remains one of the best hitters in baseball and an excellent outfielder. His .919 OPS this season is the product of a .316 batting average, 11 home runs, 11 doubles and a reasonably high walk rate.

Braun does play his home games in Milwaukee, which is one of the better home run parks in baseball. But AT&T Park isn’t all that hard on right-handed hitters, and even if it were, it wouldn’t change the fact that Braun is a career .305 hitter. In any park, a middle of the order that goes Posey-Braun-Pence-Belt would be formidable.

As for the injury history, that’s a bit overblown. A rookie in 2007, Braun’s first DL stint came in 2013. That happened to come about a month before he was suspended for the rest of the season due to discoveries connecting him to PED use. The injury was a damaged nerve that continued to bother him in 2014, until he finally underwent a cryotherapy procedure to freeze the nerve. Braun also missed a couple weeks in 2014 with an oblique strain, and he ended his 2015 season about a week early to have surgery on a herniated disc.

One could speculate that had Braun never been caught, continued PED use could have helped lessen or even prevent some or all of these injuries, as maybe, purely speculatively, it might have done for him in the past and helped him avoid the DL for so many years. It’s not crazy to surmise this, though it’s hard to prove.

So, yes, he has had three injuries the past four seasons, but so have most Major League players. Sometimes when a player starts breaking down, he can never stay healthy for long stretches again. But sometimes a player will go through a period of injury misfortune— sometimes the result of a domino effect in which the first injury leads to the next—and then eventually get back to playing full seasons. While there is some reason for concern, there’s less reason to worry about Braun’s health as there is about Pagan’s or even Pence’s.

The fear of another injury certainly should not override the fact that Braun is a dominant offensive player, nor should concerns about whether PEDs inflated his numbers. After word leaked following the 2011 season of his failed PED test, he went on to have a 2012 season as monstrous as his pre-PED-test MVP campaign.

(One would think he wouldn’t have been so brazen as to continue using PEDs after getting caught, though it certainly wouldn’t be unprecedented for an athlete to do so. Not to mention, Braun proved to be rather brazen during his aggressive campaign to deny he ever took PEDs.)

The other issue is Braun’s contract, which carries four more guaranteed years and $72 million after 2016, plus a $4 million buyout or a $15 million mutual option for 2021. Braun will be 36 when the guaranteed portion of the contract expires, during the final year of which he will make $17 million. For a player of his caliber—a tick above Hunter Pence, who is making $18.5 million a year—that actually is quite palatable.

It’s said that the Brewers might have to eat some of the contract. Maybe, but it really is a friendly contract compared to what Braun could demand on the open market. But if the Brewers do indeed agree to cover some of the money, then all the better for a trade partner like the Giants.

Next: Cain and Pagan Nearing Returns

So, if the Brewers want to trade Braun for some prospects, the Giants shouldn’t hesitate to pursue him. At the very least, they’re exploring the possibility.

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