Ryan Braun Reportedly Fails Drug Test: Must Brewers Sign Prince Fielder Now?

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Ryan Braun Reportedly Fails Drug Test: Must Brewers Sign Prince Fielder Now?
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

According to emerging reports, first broken by ESPN's "Outside the Lines," 2011 NL MVP Ryan Braun has allegedly tested positive for elevated levels of testosterone and as a result, faces a 50-game ban from Major League Baseball.

While the story is still developing, initial indications are that Braun was tested for PED use prior to the playoffs and was notified of the failure in late October. 

The secret knowledge of his failed test must have taken some of the thrill out of winning the National League's MVP award for his tremendous 2011 season.

Major League Baseball has yet to officially announce details of Braun's transgression or the impending 50-game suspension due to Braun's insistence of his innocence, which led him to fight the results via an arbitration process.

As quoted in the ESPN piece, a representative for Braun attempted to shed light on the nature of the allegations. In the released statement, they said:

"There are highly unusual circumstances surrounding this case which will support Ryan's complete innocence and demonstrate there was absolutely no intentional violation of the program. While Ryan has impeccable character and no previous history, unfortunately, because of the process we have to maintain confidentiality and are not able to discuss it any further, but we are confident he will ultimately be exonerated."

For his part, Ryan Braun categorized the reports of his alleged PED use as "BS," according to USA Today.

The "Outside the Lines" report states that in order to validate the results of Braun's test, MLB sent the test specimen to the World Anti-Doping Agency for a secondary examination. According to WADA, their testing proved that the levels of testosterone were indeed synthetic and could not have resulted from from natural occurrences within Braun's body. 

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

With Braun's immediate future in doubt, the reigning NL Central-champion Brewers now find themselves in a difficult situation. Poised to lose their best player for almost a third of the 162-game schedule—while already facing the potential departure of free-agent first baseman Prince Fielder—the Brewers face a daunting power outage that could prematurely short-circuit their 2012 campaign.

Are the Brewers now forced into a situation where they must re-sign the slugging Fielder in order to avoid a disastrous follow-up to the first division championship for the franchise since baseball realigned? 

This past season, Braun and Fielder formed the potent core of a Milwaukee offense that led the NL with 185 home runs and finished fourth in runs scored. Between them, Braun and Fielder accounted for 71 home runs and 231 RBIs. 

Without the dynamic duo, the 2012 Brewers could potentially find themselves in a deep hole by June that proves insurmountable. 

Are they willing to take such a significant risk?

They still have a few potent bats in the lineup with Rickie Weeks and Corey Hart in the fold, but none of the remaining Brewers can offer the same consistency or production that Braun and Fielder have throughout their careers.

Unfortunately for the Brewers, Prince Fielder now stands as the premier player available on the free-agent market following the recent signings of Albert Pujols, C.J. Wilson and Jose Reyes.

With a sudden dearth of true impact players remaining on the market, Fielder and his agent Scott Boras find themselves in an enviable position, able to position Fielder as a necessity for any team still hoping to drastically improve its chances for 2012.

Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Rumors have circulated around Fielder and alleged interest from numerous teams, including the Rangers, Nationals, Cubs, Mariners and Blue Jays among others. As of recently, the Brewers had still held out hope of re-signing their star slugger, but competition figures to be fierce and the financial commitment significant. 

It had recently been reported that Milwaukee could potentially offer Fielder a contract in the neighborhood of five years, $100 million and could possibly be convinced to add another year and $20 million additional to convince Fielder to stay.

If such a deal were possible, it might make sense to complete it immediately in light of the Braun revelations. The two have been so integral to the team's recent success that losing one of them could be severely detrimental, while being without both of them could be devastating. 

The club had just extended Braun long-term, securing his services through 2020, with a five-year, $105 million addendum to his existing contract.

That gamble had proved fruitful, as Braun hit .332 with 33 home runs, 111 RBIs, while leading the NL in slugging percentage and OPS. He posted a 166 OPS+ and also stole 33 bases in 39 attempts, proving to be a multi-faceted threat.

His success was aided mightily by Fielder however, who crushed 38 home runs, drove in 120 and posted a .415 on-base percentage and a 164 OPS+.

It now appears that Fielder may not have been the only help that Braun received in 2011.

Over the last five seasons, Fielder has been a significant force in the NL, averaging 160 games played, 40 home runs and 113 RBIs while posting a 151 OPS+. His potent bat and discerning eye have combined to make him one of the more dynamic offensive threats in baseball since his emergence as a regular in 2006.

Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Milwaukee faces a difficult decision now. If their potential offers to retain Fielder are within the realm of possibility, they should do what they can to keep the slugger in town. The duo of he and Braun is a proven success and would keep the Brewers in contention for at least the next several years.

With Albert Pujols gone to Anaheim and the Cubs and Reds having yet to improve themselves, the NL Central appears to be Milwaukee's for the taking.

As the Ryan Braun situation is still unfolding, while he and the Brewers await the final judgment, Milwaukee could strike a definitive, preemptive blow which would soften the impact of a potential Braun suspension.

In order to do so, the Brewers must act swiftly and decisively to save their 2012 season.

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