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Will This Weekend Be Ryan Braun's Final Bow at Miller Park?

And if he goes, how will the Brewers replace him?

Sep. 19, 2016
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Photo courtesy Milwaukee Brewers

Welcome to the On Deck Circle, Brewers writer Kyle Lobner's weekly look at the team's week to come and beyond.

If you’ve already made the mental transition to football season, you might be missing one of Ryan Braun’s greatest hot streaks. Since the calendar turned to August, Braun has hit 16 home runs in 42 games (39 starts), more than doubling his season total. As a result, Braun has 30 homers for the season for the first time since 2012 and, depending on who you believe, maybe the last time as a Brewer.

Much has been made of the rumor that the Brewers and Dodgers were discussing a Braun/Yasiel Puig swap prior to the waiver trade deadline at the end of August.  Last week Bob Nightengale of USA Today strongly suggested that the deal will be revisited and completed this winter, going so far as to say “it likely will be for the final time” when Braun takes off his Brewers jersey following the team’s season finale on October 2.

Not everyone agrees with that assessment, however: Jon Heyman of Today’s Knuckleball significantly downplayed the rumor, quoting a source that said, ““there was lot of dialogue but it was never close.”

This could make for an awkward situation as Braun and the Brewers open their final homestand of the season this week: Regardless of who you choose to believe, there’s a nonzero chance that Braun’s final home game for Milwaukee will happen in the next seven days. It could come in front of a small crowd on Sunday, as the Brewers and Packers will be playing at the same time.

If Braun does leave this winter, of course, he won’t be the first player to depart without the fans having a clear-cut opportunity to say goodbye. Most fans probably had no idea they were seeing Brewers all-time strikeout leader Yovani Gallardo’s final start on September 25, 2014, for example. A couple of weeks ago I drew some parallels between Braun and Paul Molitor, and the latter’s departure wasn’t certain at the time of his final Milwaukee home appearance in 1992 either.

If this week is it for Braun in Milwaukee, the Brewers will have to have some interesting conversations in response:

How do you replace him?

With Braun on the bench Sunday, Chris Carter batted third (and homered) for the first time all season. Carter was only the sixth player to start a game in that spot for the Brewers this season, and Braun is the only current member of the organization that’s done it more than seven times.

Those aforementioned seven starts in the #3 spot belong to Hernan Perez, who is not a likely candidate to fill that role in the long term either. There simply isn’t a scenario where the Brewers remove Braun from their lineup and don’t take a step back in that spot.

How do you promote the 2017 team without him?

In Braun’s absence, these would be the longest-tenured active members of the Brewers by games played:

1)    *  Scooter Gennett, 445 games

2)    *  Martin Maldonado, 347 games

3)    *  Hernan Perez, 200 games

Yes, you’re reading that right: Hernan Perez, who the Brewers claimed off waivers during the 2015 season, could be on the verge of becoming one of the franchises’ most significant holdovers. He could move up that list even further, because neither Gennett nor Maldonado are assured jobs or prominent roles for 2017.

The pitching staff doesn’t offer many better options to feature on a pocket schedule, with Wily Peralta and Jimmy Nelson both coming off down seasons. Junior Guerra has been a fantastic story this season, but building a promotional strategy around a 32-year-old former independent leaguer might be a little too…on the nose, let’s say, for the 2017 Brewers.

How do you remember his contributions?

Braun is one of nine active or recently retired players who have already qualified for the Miller Park Wall of Honor, so that enshrinement is a given when he eventually decides to hang up his cleats. Beyond that, however, there are a couple of judgment calls in play.

To this point, the Brewers’ decision to retire or not retire a jersey number has revolved around a single question: “Did the player make the Hall of Fame?” Braun is a long shot at best to reach Cooperstown. As the face of one of the most successful eras of Brewers franchise history, however, Braun may merit consideration for an exception. J.R. Radcliffe sparked an interesting conversation on this topic on Twitter about a month ago.

At the same time, a collection of voters would get another opportunity to hold a referendum on Braun’s legacy. Braun would be an interesting candidate for the Brewers’ Walk of Fame outside Miller Park, which currently has 17 members with longtime Milwaukee Braves first baseman Joe Adcock being added this summer.

The Brewers’ Walk of Fame page identifies the voters for this honor as “a committee of approximately 100 Wisconsin media members and Brewers officials.” Nominees need to receive the approval of 75% of the voters to be inducted. That means a relatively small group of voters wishing to make a statement regarding Braun’s PED suspension and/or his handling of the situation could cost him this honor.

For now, though, all of these questions can wait. In the meantime, take a moment to see Braun hit at Miller Park this week. You never know when you might be watching him for the last time.

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