Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun took a page from Troy Tulowitzki’s book on Thursday, tacking a five-year, $105 million extension onto his existing contract, which would have run through 2015. From Brewers GM Doug Melvin’s standpoint, the concerns here are just as they were for the Colorado Rockies when they signed Tulowitzki. That is, the team keeps its star player for most of his career, picking up some marketing value but also absorbing significant on-field risk. What makes this deal unique among pre-free agency contracts, however, is that Braun’s camp initiated the conversation rather than waiting for the team to express interest. The completion of this agreement represents a simply masterful job by Braun’s agent, Nez Balelo of CAA Sports.
The key to the impressiveness of this deal for Balelo is that the money is close to as much as—if not more than—Braun otherwise could have hoped to make for his age 32-37 seasons. To this point in Braun’s career, he has shown to be durable, playing over 150 games in each of his full seasons in the Major Leagues. He has also ranked among the game’s elite with the bat ever since the Brewers called him up in 2007, posting a career weighted on-base average (wOBA) of .397, tied for sixth in baseball during that time. However, Braun will likely never be considered for the informal title of “best player in baseball” because he plays left field and does it so poorly. While Braun is no Adam Dunn, some defensive metrics suggest similarity to Jason Bay, who likely could have signed for much more than four years and $66 million if not for the maligned perception of his defense. Carrying a much younger, more athletic body than either Dunn or Bay, Braun has largely evaded public discussion of his defensive shortcomings. By 2015, some combination of injury, offensive inconsistency, and scrutiny of his defense will probably catch up to Braun and, if not for his new deal, could have jeopardized his chance of signing a $105 million contract. Now, instead of Braun and his agent having to worry about those things for the next five years, the Milwaukee Brewers have to worry about them for the next 10.
Moreover, certain aspects of the contract and the negotiation process strengthen Braun’s public image. Every agent surely knows that commitment to one team is one of the noblest characteristics a player can be perceived to have. Meanwhile, the desire to play for the highest bidder is one of the most damaging. By virtue of the deal’s length, as well as the fact that Braun’s camp initiated the negotiations, no one will ever question his commitment to the Brewers. Braun will undoubtedly become the face of the franchise, much as Tulowitzki already has for the Rockies, and he will never have the opportunity to become a premium free agent and have that distinction taken away. Additionally, Braun agreed to defer $18 million without interest, which evidently contributed significantly to the completion of the deal. For Braun, this is a relatively significant sacrifice of wealth, which, as we know from Matt Holliday’s comments during the Albert Pujols suspense, generates the impression of selflessness and increased commitment to winning. By definition of loyalty, Braun could not have acquired that image on the same level with any other team, so it seems to have been an important factor. If Balelo continues to capitalize on that perception, Braun may even regain some of his diminished wealth through endorsement dollars.
That Braun and Balelo benefit so greatly from this contract suggests that the Brewers should not have agreed to it, but the deal is not so outlandish that Braun does not have a chance to be worth his salary. Predicting the change in his performance with age is a complex endeavor that will not be undertaken here, but in general, players of his skill set—lots of power, not much defense—tend to age relatively poorly. Still, the value of a win always appreciates over time, so by the time this extension takes effect, Braun will likely only have to average around 2.5 WAR per season to justify his deal. Accounting for the deferred money and the possibility of rapid revenue growth, the expectation may be even less than that. Even though, overall, most analyses—including this one—would not consider this a wise deal for the Brewers, there is still a reasonable chance that Braun will provide a solid—if not complete—return on their investment. If that turns out to be the case, Major League Baseball may see an increasing number of agents emulate the approach of Nez Balelo.
SPECIAL BUSINESS OF SPORTS NETWORK REPORTS:
The Labor Battle in the NFL. See BizOfFootball.com for details
Welcome to the 2011 Business of Sports Network Autism Challenge
Click to donate
to Autism Speaks
Lance Gurewitz is currently a sophmore at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. You can read and discuss his baseball analysis and other sports musings in 140 characters or less by following @LanceWG42 on Twitter
Follow The Biz of Baseball on Twitter
Follow the Business of Sports Network on Facebook