This has been quite the week for the National League Central division. The St Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers figure to take a step back as both teams prepare to lose their respective free agent first baseman in Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder. In the case of the Cardinals, Pujols has already signed a 10 year contract worth $260 million with the Los Angeles Angels, and the Brewers no longer appear to be a serious bidder for Fielder’s services. The Brewers could probably survive the loss of Fielder as the team still has a strong starting rotation, and will likely pursue Cubs’ free agent third baseman Aramis Ramirez. But even if the Brewers add Ramirez to the mix, there is one player that the team can not afford to lose.
The Brewers gave left fielder Ryan Braun a contract extension in the beginning of the 2011 season, one that will pay him $100 million between the 2016-2020 seasons. Braun, to his part, proved that he deserved that contract with his stellar 2011 season. Braun hit .332/.397/.597.994 with 33 home runs and 111 RBIs for the Brewers this season. Those numbers were enough to earn Braun the honor of being named the National League Most Valuable Player, despite the fact that Los Angeles Dodgers’ outfielder Matt Kemp seemingly had a better season than Braun.
However from this day going forward, there will likely be an asterisk next to Braun’s MVP award and some reporters may view Kemp as the true National League MVP. In a time in which the baseball industry thought the game was past the steroid era, the game’s darkest hour appears to be trying to censor the bright future of the game. Mark Fainaru-Wada and T.J. Quinn, Outside the Lines reporters for ESPN, reports that the reigning National League MVP has tested positive for performance enhancing drugs. The reports states that the failed test was a result from a urine sample that Braun submitted during the playoffs. Braun learned of the failed test in October, nearly a month before he was named the most valuable player.
Braun and the Brewers organization have already gone on the defensive–what else could they do at this point–but it would seem that they are facing an uphill battle. There is no case where a player has had his failed test overturned, and that is likely to be the same outcome for Braun. Through a spokesperson, Braun says that he is innocent and that the circumstances of the failed test were “highly unusual”. Even if Braun had no intention of testing positive the fact remains that he did, and that is why he will likely serve a 50 game suspension at the beginning of the 2012 season.
This is not the time to criticize Braun, as the verdict remains out on the Brewers’ left fielder. But no matter how the case plays out, Braun will now be linked to steroids for the rest of his career–which figures to affect his status for all-star games and accomplishments during the regular season. But on a larger scale, you have to wonder if the Brewers would have learned of Braun’s positive test during the beginning periods of the off-season, how would that have affected the team’s off-season plans. For instance, the Brewers may have been more motivated to give into Fielder’s demands knowing that Braun was facing a 50 game suspension. Now the Brewers may have to settle for Ramirez while the Cubs–who could wind up with Fielder–take another step closer to contention.