Three years ago, the Brewers made a savvy move. They signed Ryan Braun to an 8 year, $45 million contract. This bought out some arb years as well as some free agency years. They locked up Braun for what amounted to $5.6 million a year for the next 8 years. There’s one thing I really want to emphasize about that contract, so please, allow me to repeat. They locked up Braun for what amounted to $5.6 million a year for the next EIGHT years. That’s right, eight years; yet, just 3 years into that contract, the Brewers decided that things weren’t secure enough. Maybe they were spooked by Prince Fielder impending departure, but whatever the reason, the Brewers have officially signed Braun to a 5 year extension good for an additional $105 million (plus a $20 million mutual option with a $4 million buy out in year 6). That’s an annual average of $21 million.
Let’s try and put things into perspective before I opine why I think the Brew Crew were misguided in this transaction. If we treat the extension as a standalone contract, it represents the 2nd largest contract (based on per year value) ever handed out to an outfielder. It only is bested by Manny Ramirez’s 2-year deal ($45 million) with the Dodgers. It’s one thing to hand out a massive contract to get a player’s prime years, but since steroid testing rolled around years 32-36 no longer typically represent a player’s prime, which is what the Brewers have purchased.
If you believe in WAR (a stat that tries to encompass a player’s value, in terms of wins, covering hitting, pitching and fielding) and Fangraphs valuation of a win (around $4.5 million per win) then Braun has provided about $17 million of value on average each year up to this point in his career. That’s a wonderful total. Amongst outfielders, he ranks 5th in this sort of valuation since 2007 (the year Braun made it to the Bigs). It really is great, but what it says, is that Braun will have to outperform his current production, during his non-peak years, in order to match the value being paid out to him. Things get a little trickier when accounting for inflation, but it doesn’t really change the analysis.
My one question is: What was the rush? Braun was under contract for 5 more years (not counting this young season). Why not wait and see how things go? It’s quite possible that Braun has an injury somewhere down the line that limits his long term effectiveness. Why not wait a bit to see if he’s the type that ages gracefully or poorly (or not at all like Tony La Russa)? It’s unknown how he will age in the next 5 years let alone the next 10. I think it is fully worth it, especially for a smaller market team, to wait and get some sort of cost certainty before investing in Ryan Braun’s (I can’t say it enough) non-peak years. This move all but signifies sayonara to Prince Fielder, hopefully, Braun doesn’t turn into an albatross forcing the Brewers to bid adieu to all future financial flexibility as well.