Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun enters this offseason with an important decision to make on retirement.
It’s an age-old question: Should I stay or should I go? 1980s Punk band ‘The Clash’ tried to answer this question and concluded “If I go there will be trouble, if I stay it will be double”. Ryan Braun may end up coming to the same conclusion as he decides whether he should stay with the Brewers or go into retirement this offseason.
Obscure pop culture references aside, Braun’s decision is going to frame the rest of the offseason plan for the Brewers.
Obviously, at this point in his career, Braun is a part-time player, not because of talent, but because of injuries. Braun has dealt with a variety of injuries over the past six or seven years, the most nagging of which has been his back.
Why Ryan Braun Could Retire
Braun’s wife, Larisa, posted a picture with a whole bunch of friends at a dinner with the caption “Milwaukee fam, gonna miss you”. That doesn’t exactly scream that Braun is coming back, but it could also be something different than what it appears. Perhaps this is simply a season-ending dinner and they’re going to miss them for the next six months until the 2021 regular season.
Then again, there’s also this.
Christian Yelich is already planting the seed that he’d leave tickets for him to games going forward. Yelich has a better understanding of Braun’s mindset than anyone outside that clubhouse, and perhaps even inside the clubhouse. The Braun family also has a newborn, the third child for Ryan and Larisa, and that could push Braun to want to be home more often.
Throughout 2020, Braun struggled to get on the field and stay on the field. He was only in the lineup about every other day and even then, he was pinch hit for or removed from the game due to injury numerous times. He had to come out of the Wild Card series in Game 1 due to injury and was unable to go for Game 2.
Braun talked about 2020 possibly being his final season back in January at Brewers On Deck, but that was before the shutdown, shortened season, and implementation of the DH in the NL. He has said that those changes impacted his thinking and pushed him to reconsider retiring at the end of the year.
He played in just 39 games this year, out of a possible 60, and posted the worst OPS (.769) and OPS+ (101) of his career. Although, a lot of Brewers players posted their lowest career numbers in those categories as well in 2020.
But with the offensive numbers taking a dip, and the back injury getting to the point where it’s even keeping him out of playoff games, Braun might take that as a sign to retire.
Why Ryan Braun Could Return
This is no way to go out. This is no way to ride off into the sunset. Ryan Braun, for 14 years, gave everything to the Brewers franchise and to the city of Milwaukee, and he deserves more than a quick postseason exit with no fans at any games to give him a send-off. He deserves a farewell season.
Braun should be able to have 40,000 fans at his final game at Miller Park, giving him a standing ovation. One final curtain call, one final gauntlet run, one final slide from Bernie Brewer.
The way his contract is setup, there’s a $15MM mutual option for 2021, which will obviously be declined by the Brewers, but there’s also a $4MM buyout the Brewers would have to pay. They could simply restructure and make the $4MM his salary for 2021 or some other number that’s far lower than $15MM.
Braun can get paid like a part-time player, it’ll save the Brewers some money, and there will be less pressure on getting him into as many games as possible.
If Braun is willing to push through one more season, if his competitive edge is still there, which it probably is, then he can come back and try one more time for that elusive World Series ring. He’s helped the Brewers get to five postseason appearances, coming closest to the World Series in 2018. Perhaps the sixth time will be the charm.
He’s still as clutch as ever, and when healthy, he can still hit and come up big at the plate.
One complicating factor, however, is the uncertain future of the DH in the NL. MLB might keep it for 2021, they might not and use it for CBA negotiations after the 2021 season. If the DH is gone, Braun would have to play the field to be in the lineup, which may make retirement the better option for his health.
If he goes into retirement, the Brewers may be in trouble missing such an important bat, but if he stays and takes up a roster spot while not being able to play for days at a time and possibly without a DH, that trouble may end up being double.
Whether Braun retires this offseason or not, he will be revered in the Milwaukee community for years to come. He’s going to get a standing ovation either at his final game or at a pre-game retirement ceremony next year.