The Milwaukee Brewers are going through an interesting roster overhaul, and it could lead to a familiar experiment.
During Spring Training 2018 and early on in the 2018 season, the Brewers tried an experiment of putting franchise star Ryan Braun at first base to give him a physical break from the outfield and clear some room for the other outfielders on the roster to get some playing time after the offseason additions of Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain.
Braun played a total of 109 innings at first base in 18 games before spending the rest of his time in his usual left field spot. That experiment was abandoned with the breakout of Jesus Aguilar at the position.
But now, after the July trade of Jesus Aguilar and the contract option declined on Eric Thames, the Brewers once again have a hole at the position. With limited options on the open market, the Brewers could look to put Braun back at first in another go around of that experiment.
David Stearns didn’t rule out a little first base for Narváez. Also said Brewers “have had ongoing discussions with Ryan Braun about defensive versatility.”
— Adam McCalvy (@AdamMcCalvy) December 5, 2019
Sure, Narvaez might play there a little bit, but he only has a game or two of big league experience at the position, while Braun has 18 games. In the grand scheme of things, that’s a minimal difference that won’t change much, but Narvaez’s value is tied to his position, where he’s a strong hitting catcher, but as a first baseman, he’d be average or below-average offensively.
How Much First Base Could Braun Play?
Well, that depends on what happens the rest of the offseason. There’s still a chance that Eric Thames could re-sign with the Brewers and take over most of the first base duties. Even then, Thames is more of a platoon option at this point and Braun could be the perfect platoon partner.
Say Braun gets the starts at first base when there’s a left handed pitcher on the mound. That would leave Ben Gamel to get the bulk of the starts in left field with lefties out there and a break from running down so many fly balls, which would ideally keep his calf and back issues at bay.
With pretty much no other internal options that have experience at first base, the Brewers may be forced to try the “Ryan Braun at first base” experiment once more. Maybe it’ll gain more traction this time.
Braun is entering the final guaranteed year of his contract. He has a mutual option for 2021 for $15 million that the Brewers are highly unlikely to pick up. He could leave and go elsewhere to finish out his career, or the team could re-sign him to a deal that’s a fraction of the cost and use Braun as more of a part-time player.
Ryan Braun hasn’t been anywhere near his prime in years, and he’s well into the back nine of his career. He started in the infield at third base, moved to the outfield, and now a move back to the infield could be where Braun goes to finish out his Brewers career.
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We’ll get more clarity on Braun potentially playing first base again as we get closer to spring training and the first base picture is cleared up with an acquisition or two.