Los Angeles Dodger outfielders, sans Trayce Thompson and Joc Pederson, have really struggled this year at the plate. Howie Kendrick, Kiké Hernandez Yasiel Puig and Scott Van Slyke all have an OPS well below .700, and none of them appear to be the answer at a corner outfield spot. While Kendrick has started to come around a little bit—he’s hit .273 in the month of June—he is still well short of the player he has been throughout his career. His ineffectiveness at the plate has taken almost all of his value outside of his positional flexibility. Puig has also been terrible at the plate, recording an OPS of a measly .643. Although, he carries far more value than the other three aforementioned players due to his tremendous upside and stellar defense. Hernandez and Van Slyke, on the other hand, are merely platoon outfielders that do almost all of their damage against left handed pitchers. Hernandez is slightly more valuable to the Dodgers than Van Slyke due to his ability to play virtually anywhere on the field and his youth, but neither player seems destined for an everyday job. While all of these players have been effective major leaguers at some point in their careers, Ryan Braun would be a huge upgrade over all of them. Braun has been one of the best hitters in the National League throughout his career and this season has been more of the same with a .315/.376/.536 slash line. The Brewers left fielder would be a huge upgrade in left field and in a Dodgers lineup that has struggled to consistently put up runs.
Perhaps the biggest reason why the Dodgers should move for Braun is the Milwaukee Brewers’ desire to dump their star left fielder’s contract. Braun, now 32 years old, is owed $72 million over the next four years. The Brewers are in the midst of a rebuild, and Braun’s massive contract can be difficult to navigate around for a mid-market team. As a result, the Dodgers may be able to create a trade package that gives up fewer prospects in exchange for taking on all of Braun’s contract. This would benefit the Dodgers as they would be able to keep their tremendous farm system in tact in case the team wants to trade for another player that may require a larger outlay of prospects, Sonny Gray, and Braun’s teammate, Jonathan Lucroy are two potential targets. The Dodgers have shown in the past that money is not as valuable as talent, as the team has taken on various contracts in trades that lowered the amount of talent sent the other way. Money is not a huge concern to the front office if it means keeping the Dodgers’ tremendous pool of prospects intact. This could be a huge bonus for the Dodgers in a potential deal for Braun.
Assuming that the Dodgers are willing to take the remainder of Braun’s salary, let’s analyze the prospects the Dodgers would have to ship to Milwaukee in return. Perhaps the biggest question the Dodgers have in any trade for an outfielder would be what to do with Puig. Pederson appears to be the long-term answer in center field, and the same can be said of Thompson in either LF or RF. As a result, if the Dodgers were to trade for Braun, Puig would be pushed to the bench. Rather than playing with fire and seeing how Puig would react to a long term bench role, the Dodgers should make Puig a part of the trade. Puig has the highest upside of just about any player the Dodgers could offer, and at 25 years old on a team that is not built to win for at least a few years, the Brewers can afford to take a gamble on a player that still could be one of the best players in the NL if he can put it all together. For the Dodgers, offering Puig would decrease the amount of prospects the team would have to offer in return while replacing his below average production with an all-star caliber player in the short term. The Dodgers have shown a significant aversion to trading away prospect talent when the same can be acquired through other means, and including a player who would be surplus to requirements upon acquiring Braun would fulfill this strategy.
While Puig would be the headline player going the other way in this potential deal, the Dodgers would also have to include some talent from their minor league system. Thankfully, due to Puig’s inclusion and the Dodgers taking on the remainder of Braun’s contract, the prospects being sent to the Brewers would be far less than what it would be if the two previous parts of the trade were not there. Therefore, the Dodgers would likely only have to offer two midlevel prospects instead of a player at the top end of the Dodgers’ farm system such as Jose De Leon or Cody Bellinger. Instead, the Dodgers could offer Andrew Toles and Andrew Sopko. Toles is a former top prospect with the Rays who was signed this past offseason after sitting out the entire 2015 season due to a fallout with the Rays organization. Toles has had significant character flaws in the past that caused his release from the Rays, but it appears the outfielder has overcome his past troubles and regained some of the form that made him a tremendously talented prospect. This season in AA, Toles is hitting .304/.339/.513 with an additional 13 stolen bases. His solid performance has him on the brink of a promotion to AAA, and at only 24 years old, Toles has the ability to be an everyday player if he continues his development without any more off the field issues. Sopko, on the other hand, is a mid-level pitching prospect currently at high A ball. A seventh round pick in the 2015 draft out of Gonzaga, Sopko has been very successful so far in his short professional career. This year he has gone 7-1 with a 3.18 ERA and 71 strikeouts in 68 innings over 14 starts, 13 of which were at the Dodgers’ A+ affiliate, Rancho Cucamonga. Sopko really only throws two pitches—his fastball and slider—that he heavily relies upon to get hitters out. Although he profiles more as a reliever over the long term due to his lack of a real third offering, Sopko’s early success in the minors could lead to him becoming a solid back of the rotation starter. However, if he is unable to reach his potential in the rotation, his two pitch mix would fit perfectly in the bullpen. At 21 years old, Sopko still has time to develop his arsenal, giving the Brewers a player with decent upside but a relatively high ceiling.
A package of Puig, Toles, and Sopko combined with taking on the remaining four years of Braun’s contract would likely be enough to complete a deal. Braun would virtually replace Puig’s underachievement in the lineup, giving the Dodgers another good right handed bat. The Brewers would receive the significant benefit of no longer having to worry about Braun’s huge contract while also adding two potential replacements for Braun in Puig and Toles, as well as a mid-level pitching prospect who could turn out to be a solid back of the rotation pitcher. This trade would benefit both sides as the Brewers would gain three pieces to the rebuild while giving themselves significantly more monetary flexibility, while the Dodgers would be adding a star player to their roster. The Dodgers need to add offense in order to be serious competitors for the postseason, and acquiring Braun would satisfy this need. Plus, the San Francisco Giants have been rumored to be interested in Braun, and keeping the Brewers’ LF away from the team higher in the standings could be equally beneficial. Acquiring Braun without having to give up top end talent in the minor leagues while upgrading an outfield position at the same time would be a huge win for the Dodgers, and one that Andrew Friedman should seriously consider.