By Andrew Wagner
MILWAUKEE — Ryan Braun is willing to do whatever it takes to help the Milwaukee Brewers get back to the playoffs, even if it means learning a new position after 11 years in the big leagues.
The six-time All-Star outfielder will get work at first base during spring training as the Brewers try to ease an outfield logjam after the team traded for Christian Yelich from the Miami Marlins and signed free agent Lorenzo Cain.
“We’ll communicate about it and I’m sure we’ll have plenty of dialogue as we go, see how things are going, see how our roster develops,” Braun said Sunday at the team’s annual winter fan festival in downtown Milwaukee. “But I’ll do the best I can at wherever they want me to play.”
The bold moves for Yelich and Cain punctuated what had been a relatively quiet offseason. After missing the playoffs by one game in 2017, Milwaukee has sped up the timeline to challenge the Chicago Cubs in the NL Central.
The plan traces back to a trip that general manager David Stearns took to California in October to talk to principal owner Mark Attanasio about the direction forward for the club.
“We decided winning in 2018 was as important as to win in 2020,” Attanasio said.
The moves also left a crowded outfield situation and the possibility of more shuffling. Power-hitting right fielder Domingo Santana might make for an attractive trade chip if the Brewers want to add another starter.
“We could sign a big pitcher,” Attanasio said. “If the right situation comes along, we can take advantage of that.”
Regardless of what happens, players are energized just a few weeks before spring training begins.
“I’m excited for the fresh start and to just be a part of this winning organization that is trending upward,” Yelich said.
His arrival opened up questions especially about left field, where Braun has played most of his major league career. Yelich won a Gold Glove in left with the Marlins, and the potential to play Braun at first at times could also ease the outfield situation.
A shortstop at the University of Miami, Braun moved to third base after the Brewers selected him fifth overall in the 2005 draft. He was still a third baseman when he arrived in the majors in 2007 but committed a league-leading 26 errors as a rookie, most of them coming on errant throws, and moved to left the next season.
A calf injury limited Braun to 140 games last season and he batted only .268 with 17 home runs and 52 RBIs, down from .306 with 30 homers and 91 RBIs the previous year before. But Braun remains a threat when healthy, so keeping him in the lineup with Cain, Yelich and third baseman Travis Shaw gives Milwaukee the chance for a potent offense.
ICYMI: @Brewers franchise player OF Ryan Braun said he’d be willing to try out 1B at spring training. At 34, the 6X all-star ecstatic front office making push for postseason. #BrewersOnDeck pic.twitter.com/pT62hSV8d1
— Dylan Scott (@WLUK_Dylan) January 29, 2018
“We didn’t score enough runs last year. … I think we were pretty good at a lot of things but we were below-average offensively,” manager Craig Counsell said. “I think we think we’re going to improve offensively this year with the addition of those guys.”
Braun, the last remaining player from Milwaukee’s 2008 and 2011 postseason teams, is looking forward to another playoff push as he enters the later stages of his career.
“Being where I’m at and my age and where I’m at in my career, it’s that much more exciting to be in that position because I’m not going to play the game forever,” the 34-year old Braun said. “So knowing that for the foreseeable future we should expect to be competing for a postseason spot is a great place to be.”