Milwaukee Brewers: Was the Ryan Braun Extension a Mistake?

James Stewart-MeudtCorrespondent IIApril 22, 2011

MARYVALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 24:  Ryan Braun #8 of the Milwaukee Brewers poses for a portrait during Spring Training Media Day on February 24, 2011 at Maryvale Stadium in Maryvale, Arizona.  (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

More and more, teams are handing out big money to lock up their players long-term. That's really nothing new. When you have a big-time talent, you want to keep that guy in uniform as long as you can.

But what's interesting is the lengths teams have gone to recently to sign players to contract extensions that may or may not be necessary.

In November, the Colorado Rockies gave Troy Tulowitzki a six-year, $119 million contract extension. Tulowitzki, when healthy, is one of the best hitters in baseball. His historic performance last September (.322, 15 home runs, 40 RBI) solidifies that stance.

But Tulowitzki was only halfway through the six-year, $31 million contract he signed in 2008 at the time and the extension pushes his salary to $157.75 million through the 2020 season.

That's a lot of money for a guy who averaged only 132 games from 2007-2010.

But Rockies fans love their shortstop and love knowing they'll have his bat in the lineup for the next 10 years.

They say the only guarantees in life are death and taxes. Well, there's also baseball contracts and Tulowitzki is one bad injury away from becoming an albatross for the Rockies. It's a risk, but it's a calculated risk on the part of Colorado.

What does that have to do with the Milwaukee Brewers?

Well, the Brewers decided they wanted to emulate the Rockies and signed Ryan Braun to a surprise five-year extension of his current contract, keeping him in town through age 36, and adding $105 million to his salary.

Right away, Braun's extension all but ensures Prince Fielder will no longer be a Brewer after this season. They've all but packed his bags for him.

And while it's hard to watch a player who has averaged 38 home runs and 105 RBI per season over the last five years leave, the Brewers showed they're not adverse to locking up their players long-term by inking Braun to his extension.

But other than prove that point to any portion of the fanbase not happy about Fielder's impending exit, there's no reason for Braun's extension.

Braun was already under contract through 2015, which would keep him with the Brewers through age 32 at a cost of about $40 million. Last season, Braun batted .304 with 25 home runs and 103 RBI. According to FanGraphs, Braun was worth $16.6 million that season, so $40 million over the next five seasons was a real bargain.

Now the Brewers have extended Braun past his prime years with this extension at a cost of about $21 million annually. That's the second richest contract signed by an outfielder (Manny Ramirez's two-year, $45 million contract with the Dodgers is No. 1).

Braun is an amazing offensive talent. He was National League Rookie of the Year in 2007 and has made the All-Star team every season since. A career slash line of .308/.367/.557 is certainly impressive.

But Braun is very much a one-dimensional player. With a bat in his hands, Braun can do some serious damage to opposing teams, but it's when he puts on his glove that things get a little shaky.

In 2007, Braun was an abysmal third baseman, posting a minus-27.7 UZR and committing 26 errors in 112 starts. So the Brewers moved Braun to left field where he's improved, but his defense is still below average.

Including this season, Braun's career UZR in left field is minus-22.8.

The success of Braun's contract extension with the Brewers will be decided by what he does at the plate and not in the field. With no DH available, it's difficult to believe Braun will continue to put up big numbers through age 36.

That the gamble the Brewers are taking here. 

Dan Szymborski of Baseball Think Factory, using the ZiPS projection system, believes Braun's WAR will average 2.2 each season after 2016. That comes to a value of about $68 million.

Compared to the $105 million the Brewers will be paying Braun for that production, that doesn't seem like a wise investment.

Put simply, this is a gamble.

MILWAUKEE, WI - APRIL 04: Ryan Braun #8 of the Milwaukee Brewers greets teammates during player inrtoductions before the home opener against the Atlanta Braves at Miller Park on April 4, 2011 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The Braves defeated the Brewers 2-1. (
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

When Fielder leaves after this season, the Brewers will be taking a big hit offensively. They still have a strong core of players—guys like Zack Greinke, Corey Hart, Rickie Weeks and Yovani Gallardo—but for a team with a payroll just over $85 million, this is still a lot of money for one player.

Time will tell how the Braun extension will look, but the Brewers might have taken an unnecessary risk for no obvious reasons.