For those who have not yet heard, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that Ryan Braun has been suspended by Major League Baseball without pay for the remainder of the 2013 season. Braun will not be appealing this suspension, which will encompass 65 games and cost Braun approximately $3.4 million in salary.
Braun released the following statement in connection with his suspension, admitting he made mistakes without publicly identifying or admitting what he did:
As I have acknowledged in the past, I am not perfect. I realize now that I have made some mistakes. I am willing to accept the consequences of those actions. This situation has taken a toll on me and my entire family, and it is has been a distraction to my teammates and the Brewers organization.
I am very grateful for the support I have received from players, ownership and the fans in Milwaukee and around the country. Finally, I wish to apologize to anyone I may have disappointed – all of the baseball fans especially those in Milwaukee, the great Brewers organization, and my teammates. I am glad to have this matter behind me once and for all, and I cannot wait to get back to the game I love.
Meanwhile, MLBPA’s executive director Michael Weiner weighed in with an odd choice of words:
I am deeply gratified to see Ryan taking this bold step. It vindicates the rights of all players under the Joint Drug Program. It is good for the game that Ryan will return soon to continue his great work both on and off the field.
It’s almost as if Mr. Weiner forgot about Braun and company’s public campaign to smear the name of Dino Laurenzi Jr., the drug collector involved in Braun’s last PED scandal. You also have to imagine Mr. Laurenzi has at least contemplated hiring an attorney to investigate the merits of a civil case against Braun for defamation in light of this news, though that is all for another article.
Just last week, it was widely speculated that the Biogenesis suspensions would not impact the 2013 season and instead would be a 2014 concern. Appeals processes can be lengthy, and Major League Baseball is certain to be building the best case it can against those it intends to suspend. Does the Braun suspension, the first major domino to fall in the wake of this scandal, change the outlook?
The answer is, probably not.
Having previously dodged a PED suspension on a technicality, Braun was possibly facing a 100-plus game suspension. Instead, he will settle for a 65-game suspension. Braun likely accepted this reduced suspension for four reasons, the order of importance of which are unknown.
First, the Brewers as a team are unquestionably out of contention. As such, the loss of a key player like Braun in a lost season has a diminished impact on the team’s competitiveness. That is not, however, to say it will have no effect on attendance and Braun-related merchandise sales going forward.
The second likely reason Braun did not appeal his suspension was that Major League Baseball likely had an iron-clad case against him. The Journal Sentinel opines that the MLB investigation must have presented Braun with overwhelming evidence from the Biogenesis investigation. I am inclined to agree given how drawn-out the Major League Baseball investigation was, waiting to act until all the ducks were in a row.
Given the number of players reportedly involved, and the commissioner’s noted commitment to cleaning up the sport, you have to assume that Major League Baseball was not going to risk ending up with egg on its face by pursuing a weak case when they were taking as dramatic an action as suspending 20 or so players, including such big names as Braun, Alex Rodriguez, Nelson Cruz, Melky Cabrera, Bartolo Colon, Jesus Montero and others.
Facing the certainty of 100+ games later or 65 games now, even assuming there is a present-value discount factor at work, it is hard to argue against cutting a deal.
The third likely reason Braun accepted his suspension without a fight was that he forfeits less salary by taking the suspension in 2013 as opposed to 2014. Next season is the second-to-last year of the original (and very team-friendly) eight-year, $45-million deal Braun signed with the Brewers back in May, 2008. That contract pays Braun $8.5 million in 2013 but $10 million in 2014.
Assume for a minute that Braun would have been suspended 65 games next year instead of this season. By taking the suspension this season instead of next, Braun would be saving himself a little over $600,000 in salary he otherwise would have to forfeit. That’s chump change to most superstar players, perhaps, but it’s still a sizable chunk of money. That sum would represent between two-and-a-half to three percent of Braun’s career earnings at the major league level to date.
However, that $600,000 figure assumes Braun was facing a 65-game suspension next season, but it’s likely he was facing a 100-game (or greater) suspension. Had Braun been suspended 100 games in 2014 instead of 65 in 2013, he would have forfeited an additional $2.8 million in salary. This is not to mention that Braun, who was not an All-Star in 2013, would have forgone a shot at the annual $50,000 All-Star selection bonus his contract contains.
Fourth and finally, but doubtfully lastly on his mind, Braun has not been entirely healthy in 2013. Braun injured his hand this year and has missed nearly a month of time rehabbing/healing. It is hard to find much fault with a player who was batting .298/.372/.498 over 61 games with a full-season pace of +4.5 wins above replacement (WAR).
However, Braun’s .368 wOBA on the season would have represented a career low, his .200 isolated power (slugging percentage minus batting average) is way down from his career rate of .252, and Braun was 4-for-9 on the basepaths after swiping 63 bags in 76 attempts over the past two seasons. As evidenced by his 135 wRC+ this season, even with injury, Braun was still producing at an elite level.
Still, by taking the time off to let his hand fully heal, Braun surely will be aiming to return to his MVP-caliber performance of the previous two seasons. It may not mean anything in the context of whether or not Braun is still hurting (he was batting .182/.182/.273 over four games since being activated from the disabled list), but I also should point out that Braun was activated earlier than expected from the disabled list due to Aramis Ramirez‘s injury.
Braun’s suspension thus makes sense. He was in a unique position in which he stood to lose more money challenging what he likely saw as the inevitable outcome, he is not hurting his team’s chances of winning the world series, and he gets additional time to rehab an injury. There are few other players rumored to be affected by the Biogenesis scandal in a similar position.
For example, Cruz will be a free agent next year, and his team is in the middle of a World Series run that has been reinforced by the team’s acquisition of Matt Garza today. Jhonny Peralta and Colon are in a similar predicament. If A-Rod is suspended for 100-plus games, given his age, injury history and the amount of work it will take to get back into the groove, he may never play again. A young, arbitration-eligible player like Everth Cabrera would absolutely tank his first-year arbitration value following a breakout season if he were to lay down without a fight.
The players that were going to accept the suspensions with no fight were those that had nothing to gain and everything to lose. Braun’s narrative fits this mold. That he did not appeal does not mean the other players will follow suit, nor that the suspensions will be handed down and made effective any swifter. Expect a drawn-out appeals process. The taint still lingers.