In a little over a week, the Brewers outfield has gone from a relatively — hell, perfectly — stable situation to a full-blown mess rife with question marks and uncertainty. Ryan Braun’s positive drug test and the winning bid for Norichika Aoki were both unexpected occurrences that aren’t likely to be resolved in the near future, and both are effectively holding the rest of the offseason hostage, as we (and the Brewers) just don’t know how either of these are going to turn out. Today, we’re going to try to sort out the possibilities and play through some scenarios, looking at how the upcoming season could be affected by what happens in the next month.
Scenario A: Ryan Braun’s positive test is upheld in the next three weeks or so, before the Brewers’ negotiating window with Aoki ends.
This seems pretty simple, at least with the limited information we have: Unless the negotiations with Aoki flop or the club really sours on him after a closer look, he will start in left field in Braun’s absence. After Braun returns, the fight for playing time between Aoki, Nyjer Morgan, and Carlos Gomez in center could take on a Black Friday-like quality, with frenzied activity, possibly even pushing and shoving, as a result of demand being so much greater than supply. Having this kind of depth is great from a team standpoint, but it still is far from ideal for a club to have two arbitration-eligible outfielders collect dust on the bench (with two more capable backups in AAA) while more pressing needs like a first-base platoon partner/Mat Gamel safety net and lefty reliever go unmet due to perceived budget woes.
Result: The Brewers miss Braun a little less while he’s gone and have relative peace-of-mind in case an outfielder gets hurt, but at a significant opportunity cost.
Scenario B: Braun is cleared of wrongdoing in the same time frame.
What would have been an interesting situation in Scenario A now has the potential to become a full-blown logjam. It’s likely that in this scenario, somebody has to go, be it Aoki back to his old club (with the $2.5 million posting fee being returned to Milwaukee) or one of Nyjer Morgan and Carlos Gomez heading somewhere else via trade. The backlash surrounding a Morgan trade would be incredible, but if the club is able to acquire a better bat at first, the payoff could be enormous. (I hate to say it, but Morgan’s value is as high as it will ever be.) Or, the Brewers sign Aoki without moving anyone else, and we end up with Scenario A, only for 162 games, which doesn’t sound all that great now, but this kind of deal last year would have almost surely prevented NLCS Kotsaygate from happening.
Result: The outfield either looks exactly like it did last year, or Doug Melvin makes a trade that angers a lot of people in the short term, but ultimately makes the team better and more balanced.
Scenario C: The negotiating window nears its end without a resolution to the Braun situation in sight.
Given the way the appeals process works, this is the most likely result, which would leave the Brewers between the proverbial rock and a hard place. It’s possible the club knows/will know enough about Braun’s situation to make an educated guess in spite of a formal ruling, but they may also be left without knowing if they have Braun for the whole year or (perhaps more importantly) if they will have to pay him. If this is so, the club has no choice but to bite the bullet and decide which is worse: Give Carlos Gomez 50-odd starts in left field or pay $5 million or so for a guy that might be rendered superfluous for two-thirds of the season. While it’s possible that the Brewers could flip Aoki elsewhere if they end up with both him and Braun, things are shaping up into a real personnel jam, and it doesn’t look like Kameron Loe will be able to bail them out of this one.
Result: Either something like Scenario A, something like Scenario B, or a real mess where someone ends playing far too much or too little.