Yasiel Puig-for-Ryan Braun Blockbuster Worth the Risk for Both Sides

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterNovember 29, 2016

Come on, Dodgers. You know you want him.
Come on, Dodgers. You know you want him.Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Dodgers and Milwaukee Brewers couldn't complete a Yasiel Puig-for-Ryan Braun trade in August. Nonetheless, they left a sense they could do so eventually.

Well, how 'bout now?

After all, the August proposal wasn't just some preposterous idea the Dodgers and Brewers kicked around for only a minute or two. Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reported Sept. 2 the two sides made a "legitimate attempt" to complete it, and Bob Nightengale of USA Today reported Sept. 14 a deal was "about 20 minutes" from being finished before the Aug. 31 deadline passed.

Some things have changed since then. But according to Andy McCullough of the Los Angeles Times, among the things that haven't is Puig's availability:

Andy McCullough @McCulloughTimes

This barely classifies as newsworthy, but heard from rival execs that the Dodgers remain open to trading Yasiel Puig this winter.

Meanwhile in Milwaukee, Braun and the Brewers haven't pushed thoughts of a trade out of sight or out of mind. General manager David Stearns told the Associated Press (via ESPN.com) on Wednesday that he's asked about it regularly. Braun, for his part, is getting tired of being in limbo.

"Not knowing 100 percent where [I'll] be playing is hard. It definitely complicates things," he said. "Obviously, things come up. It's a part of the business. It's a part of the profession. If something were to happen, we'd figure it out when we get there."

Mind you, there are hurdles in the way for the Dodgers to trade their 25-year-old right fielder for the Brewers' 33-year-old left fielder.

The big one is money. Braun's contract still has four years and $76 million left on it. Puig's contract calls for only two years and $17.4 million, plus a year of arbitration in 2019.

Though the Dodgers have spared no expense in recent years, swapping the contracts would be problematic. As Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times reported Saturday, they're looking to cut payroll as they seek to satisfy a mandate from Major League Baseball to reduce their debt.

But where there's a will, there's a way. And both sides should still have the will to bring their earlier talks to completion.

The Brewers are in the right place to make an upside play on Puig.
The Brewers are in the right place to make an upside play on Puig.Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

For the Brewers, trading Braun would be the next step toward completing their rebuild.

They've already shed a lot of payroll, going from a mark of $104.2 million on Opening Day in 2015 to $63.9 million in 2016. If they move Braun's contract, their guaranteed money will be down to Matt Garza's $12.5 million salary for 2017.

All that payroll space would be needed soon enough. Through smart drafting and trading, Milwaukee has turned a barren farm system into one that MLB.com's Jim Callis ranked No. 1 in early August. It shouldn't be long before the Brewers have one of baseball's best young cores. Not long after that, they'll be looking to lock it up.

Let's not kid ourselves. Freeing up payroll would be the main attraction for Milwaukee in a Braun deal. But if it's going to take on a player in return, it may as well be a lottery ticket like Puig.

Puig's power and on-base skills have gotten worse.
Puig's power and on-base skills have gotten worse.Rich Schultz/Getty Images

He certainly has issues. He went from a .925 OPS in 2013 to a .740 OPS in 2016. With a total of 183 games played over the last two seasons, his durability has trended in the same direction. And even with his worst incidents seemingly behind him, his character remains yet another question mark.

"They're going to take the next two weeks to try to figure out whether Yasiel Puig can fit onto the team," Jon Heyman of Today's Knuckleball wrote in mid-September. "Nobody has cited anything terrible Puig has done, but there's no getting around the fact he'd annoyed an entire clubhouse."

If nothing else, this makes Puig a perfect candidate for a change of scenery. Going from Los Angeles, one of MLB's biggest media markets, to Milwaukee, one of its smallest, could be just the change of scenery he needs.

Puig's durability and production are different matters. But as far as reasons to be optimistic go, his youth is a darn good one. With his age-26 season due up in 2017, he shouldn't be past his physical prime.

Besides, Puig's struggle hasn't been a steady string of badness. He has shown flashes of the Rookie of the Year runner-up and All-Star that he was in 2013 and 2014. He began 2015 with an .816 OPS through his first 40 games, and he ended 2016 with an .857 OPS over his final 51 games.

If Puig stays on the field and maintains that form, he would be one of two things for the Brewers: one of many quality players on a young and exciting roster or valuable trade bait if it turns out the team needs more time to rebuild.

As for the other end of this trade, the fit between Braun and the Dodgers is more straightforward.

Braun is just the kind of right-handed bat the Dodgers need.
Braun is just the kind of right-handed bat the Dodgers need.Dylan Buell/Getty Images

With a career .910 OPS and an .879 OPS with 55 home runs and 40 stolen bases over the last two seasons, Braun would be an upgrade for Los Angeles in either left or right field. Those two spots were the Dodgers' worst for offense in 2016.

The fact that Braun is a right-handed hitter gives him extra appeal. With Justin Turner afloat on the free-agent waters, Los Angeles needs one of those to balance a lineup that skews left-handed with Corey Seager, Adrian Gonzalez, Joc Pederson, Andrew Toles and switch-hitter Yasmani Grandal.

The left-handedness of the Dodgers lineup contributed to its fatal flaw in 2016. With a .622 OPS, Los Angeles was the most inept team in the majors against left-handed pitching. It hit left-handers about as well as Erick Aybar hit everyone.

It so happens Braun is especially lethal against lefties. The 1.010 OPS he had against lefties in 2016 was in line with his career 1.028 OPS against them.

That, by the way, is the best mark of any hitter with at least 1,000 plate appearances against lefties since 2007, Braun's rookie season.

Best Lefty Killers: 2007-16
1Ryan BraunBrewers1,4501.028
2David WrightMets1,3561.027
3Miguel CabreraMarlins/Tigers1,658.996
4Albert PujolsCardinals/Angels1,652.968
5Jayson WerthPhillies/Nationals1,389.961

How much longer Braun keeps this up is a good question. He's not young, so his recent thumb and back surgeries and average of 136 games played over each of the last three seasons loom large. So does his history with performance-enhancing drugs, which got him suspended in 2013.

These concerns are why the Dodgers must try to send more than just Puig to Milwaukee. As Nightengale reported, they were also going to give up prospects and Brandon McCarthy, who would've helped even things out with his $23 million in guaranteed money over the next two seasons. That idea should remain on the table.

But one way or another, Braun offers enough potential reward to balance the risk.

For all his question marks, he's been productive in the last two seasons despite being old and (for all we know) clean. If he ages well, there's more where this came from. If he doesn't, he could still be a useful player as he comes down from high heights.

Of course, the Dodgers must have worked this out months ago. The same goes for the Brewers with Puig. Two teams don't get 20 minutes from a trade without convincing themselves it's a good idea.

So, all the clubs have to do now is get back to talking.

Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted/linked. Payroll and contract information courtesy of Cot's Baseball .


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