Posted on January 28, 2018, by Bryan Zarpentine
With the acquisition earlier this week of both Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain, the Milwaukee Brewers suddenly have an abundance of outfielders on their roster. There has already been talk of the Brewers making a trade to clear space in their outfield. However, longtime left fielder Ryan Braun has offered to change positions, at least part time, to help clear space in the outfield.
“I think that’s something we’re open to exploring in Spring Training and seeing where it leads,” says Brewers GM David Stearns. “Obviously, it’s challenging to change positions at the Major League level, but it’s something that Ryan is open to exploring, so we’ll see where that leads.”
Cain and Yelich figure to be everyday players in center field and right field, respectively. That leaves one spot available for last year’s outfield trio of Braun, Keon Broxton, and Domingo Santana. Broxton is likely to take on a fourth outfielder role or be used as minor league depth. But both Braun and Santana are productive enough to warrant being something more than a part-time player. With Braun and Santana likely to share left field, it would help if Braun could play elsewhere.
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“Ryan’s interests are to help this team however he can,” said Stearns. “He wants to win. He knows we just acquired two very talented players who are going to help us win. Ryan wants to put the Brewers in the best position to succeed.”
Braun told reporters on Sunday that he’s already had conversations about playing first base and second base. Of course, Braun has never played either position. He played shortstop in college and played third base throughout his time in the minors. Braun played his rookie season in 2007 as a third baseman before moving to the outfield full time. However, he was arguably the worst third baseman in the majors that season, making it unlikely that he’ll be competent defensive more than a decade later.
The Brewers also don’t have much of a need at first base. Eric Thames was the team’s primary first baseman last year, as well as one of their most important offensive players. He hit 31 home runs and contributed an OPS of .877. Against lefties, Thames would often make way for Jesus Aguilar, who hit 16 home runs with an .852 OPS in a part-time role. There’s little reason for the Brewers to breakup that partnership.
There’s a little more need for help at second base. As it stands, Jonathan Villar and Eric Sogard will compete for playing time at the keystone. Villar had a disappointing 2017 season after a breakout campaign in 2016. Sogard provided a huge lift for the Brewers last year in May and June, only to struggle the second half of the season. The Brewers would no doubt like Braun’s offensive production coming at second base. But whether he can handle the position defensively is another question.
“We’ve got a lot of good choices, certainly. They’ll be tough choices, but there will be a lot of good choices,” says Brewers manager Craig Counsell. “This is a bigger challenge that we may undertake here, and we recognize that, but it’s part of what kind of opens up that puzzle to some of the at-bats.”
The Brewers are right to explore their options with an overcrowded outfield. However, it’s unlikely that Braun playing first or second base will work out. His days of being an infielder ended more than a decade ago. There’s also no reason to disrupt the Thames-Aguilar partnership at first base. If the Brewers want to clear some space in their outfield, a trade is likely the better option.