Chicago Cubs Long-Term Focus: How Ryan Braun extension with Milwaukee Brewers helps Cubs

Posted on April 22, 2011

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Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun signed a five-year, $105-million contract extension Thursday, ensuring he will be with the team through the year 2020. Braun had already been under an eight-year pact for $45 million, which ran through 2015.

The Chicago Cubs (and especially GM Jim Hendry) will not acknowledge it publicly, but this is a huge boon for the Cubs in the long term in at least two ways:

  1. Having a division rival hamstrung by a key contractual mistake is a critical advantage. Braun got the much better end of this deal. Whereas the extension he signed in early 2008 was very team-friendly, this one will pay Braun an average annual salary higher than any given to an outfielder in history, save Manny Ramirez. Braun is already a poor fielder and could need to move to first base eventually, meaning he would need to continue or even improve upon his stellar plate performance thus far in order to earn fair value.
  2. By signing Braun, Corey Hart, Yovani Gallardo and Rickie Weeks to long-term deals over the past year, and by acquiring two soon-to-be high-priced pitchers (Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum) this winter, the Brewers all but capitulated to Prince Fielder‘s impending free agency. Fielder is a goner for the Brewers: They may make an offer to appease their fan base, but the terms will not meet Fielder’s demands. The Cubs are now the only team with demonstrable need and sufficient means to grab Fielder this winter. Fielder is the best value to be had among elite free agents this winter, and the Cubs now stand almost unopposed, check in hand.
I should qualify the above statements: While the deal seems to stretch the Brewers to their fiscal breaking point, it may yet be a decent value. Braun,as someone recently pointed out to me, has cranked up his walk rate this season. He is walking, in fact, at more than double his career rate, and his strikeout rate continues to decline steadily. For the season, he has 15 walks against 10 strikeouts, and at 80 plate appearances, he is approaching the point at which those rates become statistically significant.
Still and all, the Cubs have a chance to abscond with Fielder at a discount now that Milwaukee is ostensibly out of the running. An Adrian Gonzalez-type deal is a very real possibility, and if the Cubs could steal Fielder for those seven years at $22 million per annum, they would be getting a much better deal: Fielder is two full years younger than Gonzalez and has better numbers in virtually every offensive category over their respective careers. The fact that Fielder is a poor fielder, while ironic, is not especially damning. Chicago should lock this guy up before Christmas, and both parties can laugh all the way to the bank.
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Posted in: Baseball