The weekend produced one of the most surprising and most controversial stories of the past decade in baseball. Ryan Braun tested positive for increased testosterone levels in a random drug test during the 2011 Postseason, which violates the new steroid policy implemented by Major League Baseball.
Sources have suggested that Braun did not test positive for performance-enhancing drugs or steroids, but for a “prohibited substance” that caused his testosterone levels to jump significantly. Sources have also stated that the MLB has never seen results such as this and that there were “highly unusual circumstances” surrounding the test and the results — not limited to reported chain-of-custody issues within the testing and results that produced twice as much testosterone than has ever been seen in a previous test.
The saga began with the entire baseball world lamenting what can only be called a loss of innocence. One of the poster boys for the new, clean MLB tested positive for PEDs. This wasn’t supposed to happen anymore. Immediately, many folks even started to call for Braun’s MVP to be revoked.
Now, after more specifics about the test and results have been leaked — presumably by people close to Braun — a myriad of questions are swirling. People want answers, and because the arbitration process will probably drag out until January, those answers will not come quickly.
Shifting the focus to the 2012 season, Brewers’ GM Doug Melvin has many challenges this winter — replacing Prince Fielder’s production, upgrading shortstop, upgrading third base, and fitting the bloated contract of Francisco Rodriguez into the budget. Now, Melvin and the Brewers could be without their best player for the first 50 games of the season.
How does Doug Melvin replace Ryan Braun (if that turns out to be necessary)?
It’s important to recognize that precisely replicating the production of Ryan Braun is all but impossible. He compiled a .433 wOBA and 179 wRC+ over 629 plate appearances. That type of production was only bested by two players in 2011, both of whom play in the American League: Jose Bautista (.441 wOBA) and Miguel Cabrera (.436 wOBA).
If the Brewers opt not to acquire any new faces prior to Opening Day, the most likely combination in the outfield will have Nyjer Morgan in left, Carlos Gomez in center, and Corey Hart in right. This trio would sacrifice quite a bit at the plate — as the Brewers would essentially be swapping Braun’s .433 wOBA for Gomez’s .307 wOBA — but the group would add a ton of defensive value.
Another internal option would be either Caleb Gindl or Logan Schafer. Both Triple-A outfielders were added to the 40-man roster over the past year and were the leading candidates for the team’s fifth outfielder role in 2012. Gindl is a 23-year-old corner outfielder who hit .307/.390/.472 in the Pacific Coast League with 15 home runs and a .165 ISO. Schafer split time between Double-A and Triple-A in 2011, hitting .315/.385/.439 over 99 games.
Schafer is the more polished player — especially defensively — but possesses less power upside with the bat. In the end, though, both are expected to be nothing more than fourth outfielders, so the overall impact from either player would likely be marginal.
The final internal option would be more complicated and is predicated on the Brewers signing Aramis Ramirez — which could happen as soon as this week — but Casey McGehee could move to first base and Mat Gamel could shift to left field. Gamel has played exactly 9.1 innings in left field, but has the best bat of the internal options. The 26-year-old hit .310/.372/.540 in Triple-A last season.
Of course, Doug Melvin and the Brewers could look toward the free agent market to fill the potential hole, as well. Fred Lewis, Jonny Gomes, or Scott Hairston are all available bench outfielders that could slide into a starting role for a couple months and potentially bring positive value. Ryan Ludwick is another potential corner outfielder with some pop that could serve as a bench bat after Braun’s return.
Milwaukee has a plethora of possibilities available to them. Luckily, left field is one of the easiest positions to fill for a short period of time. However, any of the above options would leave the Brewers in a tough position in terms of scoring runs, as Braun is the absolute anchor of the batting order.
Assuming the Brewers sign Aramis Ramirez — and they seem to be the only legitimate suitor at this point — here is the projected Opening Day batting order:
There are a million reasons why it would be better for the Brewers to have Ryan Braun win his appeal. But look at that batting order. First and foremost, the Brewers need Ryan Braun’s bat in the lineup for the first 50 games of 2012.
J.P. Breen is a graduate student at the University of Chicago. For analysis on the Brewers and fantasy baseball, you can follow him on Twitter (@JP_Breen).