“Get rid of Braun?” Yeah, sure, OK

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The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel’s editorial about the Ryan Braun stuff is hilarious. And not just for this part, which suggests that Ryan Braun’s PED use has been so pervasive that it has given him the ability to fly:

Braun is paying a pittance to leave one of the worst teams in the majors for a few months to work out in the comfort of California’s azure skies.

I picture him doing ab crunches on a cloud.

No, the really silly part of it is the editorial’s main argument: Brewers owner Mark Attanasio should simply make Ryan Braun go away:

Ryan Braun has to go.

Milwaukee Brewers owner Mark Attanasio has an opportunity to make the most powerful statement any owner has ever made about what the game of baseball should be and what it should not be. Attanasio can make a statement that would reverberate across the many other venues of professional sports infected by the plague of doping … Attanasio has a chance to make the Milwaukee Brewers franchise an example for the rest of professional sports: He can do that by getting rid of Ryan Braun.

Nowhere do the J-S’s editors say how Attanasio should “get rid” of Braun. If they had bothered to consult the many able members of their sports department they would have realized that the only way to do that is to release him. In which case they would still owe him all of the money remaining on his contract and that Braun would be able to sign on as a free agent with any team in baseball for the major league minimum salary.

You don’t think the Cubs or Cardinals or Reds would pay a few hundred grand to Braun next year? Indeed, I can’t think of a single team in the major leagues that wouldn’t at that price, PED taint or no. It would be quite the scene, though, if he joined an NL Central team and hit against a punchless Brewers team for the next five or six years.

But of course this is the logical conclusion of a culture in which treating drug offenders in baseball as something worse than mere drug offenders is the order of the day. Acting as if this is some grand opera instead of a sport with a disciplinary system that is working pretty well, actually, and which takes players from their teams and allows them to return after they’ve paid their price. Major League Baseball is not tough enough to police itself, these people implicitly believe, so the league requires their superior moral insight to tell them what they should really do.

Except most of the people doing this don’t understand the sport at all and have lost all perspective with respect to the issue.

Two injured MVPs is a major bummer for baseball

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Last week Christian Yelich‘s season ended with a fractured kneecap. At the time he went down he was neck-and-neck with Cody Bellinger — I think a tad behind, though people may reasonably differ — and, at least by my reckoning, a hair or three above Anthony Rendon, Ketel Marte and Pete Alonso in the race for the NL MVP Award. As I wrote last week, I think that means Bellinger is going to walk away with the hardware when the winner is announced in November. Yelich’s injury will prevent him from making a late season surge to surpass Bellinger, but I think it would’ve taken a surge for him to do it.

Over the weekend we learned that Mike Trout’s season is over as well. He’ll be having foot surgery to deal with a nerve issue causing him pain. At the time he went down he was the clear frontrunner to win his third MVP Award. Unlike Yelich, I’m pretty sure Trout will still win the trophy. Sure, Trout hasn’t played since September 7, meaning that he’ll miss more time than Yelich will, but strained articles stumping for alternative candidates notwithstanding, his lead in the MVP race was more secure.

Trout’s 2019 ends with him setting a career high in homers with 45 and slugging percentage at .645—both of which lead the American League. He likewise leads the league in on-base percentage (.438), OPS (1.083), and in both Baseball-Reference.com’s and FanGraphs’ versions of WAR at 8.3 and 8.6, respectively. With just under two weeks to go it seems likely that Jorge Soler of the Royals will pass Trout for the home run lead, but he’s not an MVP candidate himself. Alex Bregman will likely pass him in walks. Trout seems pretty certain to finish with his lead in all or most of the other categories intact. That’s an MVP resume even if he’ll only have played in 134 games. To give the award to anyone else would be an exercise in narrative over reason. Something born of a desire to reward a guy — like, say, Bregman — for playing on a winning team as opposed to his individual accomplishments. Sure, voters are allowed to do that, but they’ve mostly eschewed such tendencies in recent years. It’d be a surprise if they backslid.

Even if Yelich’s and Trout’s injuries aren’t likely to radically change the MVP race — again, I think the NL’s was Bellinger’s to lose — they’re both still lamentable separate and apart from the fact that all injuries stink. Lamentable in a way that, unfortunately, creates a downer for baseball as it gets ready for the postseason.

The Brewers won the game in which Yelich went down and have won four of five since then. In so doing they have remained close in the race for the second Wild Card and currently stand one game back. They also have an insanely favorable schedule the rest of the way, exclusively facing the weak sisters of the National League in the Padres, Pirates, Reds and Rockies. Even so, it’s no gimmie — those Reds and Rockies games are on the road, and Great American Ballpark and Coors Field makes those bad teams better — and the reward at the end of this is likely to be a one-game play-in. You want your best player in any and all situations and the Brewers don’t have theirs. And won’t, even if they make the postseason and even if they win the Wild Card game. Having one of the game’s brightest stars on crutches for the playoffs is not something anyone at the league office wants.

The Angels have no such postseason concerns and haven’t had them for most of the season. Once again they’re terrible. As they have been for almost the entirety of Trout’s career. They’ve made the postseason only once in his career — back in 2014, losing the LDS in three games — and do not appear poised to put a winner on the field any time soon. Trout is still in his prime, obviously, but like all players he’ll either slow down or break down eventually. Given the state of the club, I’m not sure I’d put a ton of money on them being good, let alone consistently good, while Trout is still the best or even one of the few best players in baseball. The upside to me seems to be an Al Kaline situation with the Tigers, in which the team finally put it together behind him only after he began to age and miss time to injuries. Having the best player in baseball outside of the playoffs looking in is not something anyone at the league office should want either.

Yet here we are.

Injuries happen. Every contender is missing at least one and in some cases several important players. But for one MVP candidate to miss the postseason this year and another one to miss the postseason every year is a major bummer for a league that has a tough go of it marketing itself even under the best of circumstances.