Entering Sunday's action, the Yankees' offense has managed just 74 runs through 22 games, the fewest in the Major Leagues. Top prospects including Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, and Jorge Mateo are still works in progress, and require further seasoning before they are given a regular spot in the starting lineup. While, in all likelihood, the Yankees will work with what they have for the short-term, one player whose addition would pay immediate dividends offensively is Ryan Braun.
Ken Rosenthal recently reported that Braun has the option of vetoing a trade to all teams with the exception of the Angels, Dodgers, Marlins, Nationals, and Rays, but that it "is becoming more realistic" that the rebuilding Brewers will look to deal him. While the acquisition of Braun is unlikely, there are strong arguments both for and against such a trade from the perspective of the Yankees.
For starters, Bruan is a much better hitter than any of the Yankees' current outfielders. Braun finished last season with an OPS of .854 (130 OPS+) over 568 plate appearances, and he is off to a fast start, with an .986 OPS through 22 games with the Brewers this season. Carlos Beltran led Yankee outfielders with an .808 OPS in 2015, but is off to a slow start this year with an OPS of just .710. Braun would be particularly helpful in improving the team's performance against left-handed pitching, against which he has a lifetime 1.027 OPS (124 tOPS+).
Although Braun is on the wrong side of 30 at 32 years old he has been durable throughout his career. In 10 MLB seasons he has landed on the DL just two times, both of which kept him out of the lineup for less than a month. His last DL stint came in 2014 when he strained an oblique muscle, but was reactivated just 10 days after being officially placed on the DL. Braun did have back surgery following the 2015 season in which he played in 140 games. However, his recovery went smoothly, and his strong start to begin this season would seem to indicate that he is healthy.
At the end of 2016 Braun will be owed $76 million over four years under his current contract. At first glance this might appear a hefty sum, but it pales in comparison to the $184 million over eight years that the Cubs had to shell out to sign Jayson Heyward this past offseason. The upcoming free agent class is quite thin for outfielders as well. Jose Bautista is still a force to be reckoned with at the plate, but at 36 is four years older than Braun. The next best options, including Carlos Gomez, Josh Reddick, and Colby Rasmus, do not have Braun's pedigree, and among them only Gomez hits right-handed.
The biggest question is where would he play? Beltran is in the final year of his contract, but at the moment there is no obvious landing spot for Braun. Jacoby Ellsbury or Brett Gardner would likely need to be dealt to in order to make room for Braun on the roster (particularly with Judge penciled in at right field for 2017), and Ellsbury's contract given his performance is all but untradeable. The Yankees could find a taker for Gardner, but if they acquire Braun first, potential trading partners would have significant leverage in trade negotiations. Gardner's drop off in the second half of 2015 also hurts his value as an asset, and he will need to demonstrate that he can stay healthy and productive through July to garner a return commensurate with his status as one of the team's best players this decade.
Even if the Yankees found a spot for Braun on their roster, his acquisition would be at odds with the team's youth movement. Braun is three months younger than Gardner and two months younger than Ellsbury, so adding him to the outfield at the expense of one of them does nothing to advance those efforts. Trading for Braun would also probably require the Yankees to part with multiple prospects, which again contradicts their recent moves towards a more flexible, younger roster.
Although Alex Rodriguez has emerged as a fan favorite in the Bronx, and Andy Pettitte remained one until he retired, it is not clear that the Yankees would be interested in adding another high-profile player who has been embroiled in a PED scandal to their roster. Optics matter to the Yankees (e.g. no facial hair below the lower lip policy) and it is dubious that the front office would want to take on a player like Braun with Rodriguez set to retire following the 2017 season. I do not consider this a good argument for not acquiring Braun, but I imagine it is one that the team's decision makers will consider.
It is difficult to know what the market for Braun will be as July approaches, and how big a prospect haul will be required to acquire him. Still, I think a conversation with Brewers General Manager David Stearns is in order, and that the Yankees should consider a push for Braun if they think he can be had without breaking the prospect bank (as opposed to Sonny Gray, who I would smash the prospect bank to bits for if the Yankees have pieces that Billy Beane likes).
Braun fills an immediate and future need, has shown little to no decline in performance in recent years, has been mostly healthy throughout his career, and has quite a favorable contract for a player as productive as he is. That being said, given the hurdles to overcome to acquire him, including Braun's veto power over trades, and the lack of an immediate spot on the roster for him, I do not expect to see Braun in pinstripes anytime soon.