The Brewer Shortstop Problem™

During last week’s Very Important Event at SABR 41, Sam Miller of the OC Register noted that one of the deficiencies of the current Angels team is the abundance of average-ish players on the roster. Despite the fact that the Anaheimers sit only a single game out of first place at the All-Star break, their playoff chances are impaired by a lack of obviously upgradeable positions: seven Angels are on pace for (or have already reached) a WAR of 2.0 or better — i.e. league average — while Bobby Abreu (who’s not going anywhere) and the catcher spot are the other two relevant slots.

Turning our attention to the Middle West, however, we see a team in the Milwaukee Brewers that has very clear deficiencies. One of these — third base — I have no intention of addressing here. The other, however — namely, shortstop — has been a conspicuous weakness from the very second Brewer GM Doug Melvin traded away Alcides Escobar et al. for Zack Greinke.

Please note that it’s not my intention whatsoever to suggest that the Greinke deal was a poor one. Very much to the contrary, Greinke appears to be an essential part of a vastly improved Brewer club. Rather, the point of this post is to note that there has never been much reason to assume that Yuniesky Betancourt, who has been a replacement-level player since 2008, would prove to be anything but a replacement-level player in 2011.

During April and May and June — when it remained to be seen if the Brewers would contend in the six-team NL Central — Betancourt’s futility was tolerable. But because Milwaukee enters the All-Star break tied for first in the NL Central, and because even one win could mean the difference between reaching and not reaching the postseason (and seeing the attendant revenues), it’s imperative for the Brewers to take action regarding their black hole at short.

So, what are the options? As best as I can tell, these are they (with wins gained or lost in parentheses):

Option No. 1: Status Quo (0 Extra Wins)
Preserving the present shortstop situation — with a majority of starts by Betancourt and an occasional spot start by Craig Counsell — would leave the Brewers with roughly a replacement-level shortstop situation for the duration of the season.

Option No. 2: Josh Wilson (0 Extra Wins)
One might assume that, because he’s neither rotund like Betancourt, nor hobbled by age like Counsell, that Josh Wilson would be an improvement at shortstop over the current pair. One would very likely assume wrongly in this case. Wilson is a .229/.282/.323 (.280 BABIP) hitter through 965 career major-league plate appearances and the advanced metrics think he’s below average defensively, too. Also, because he’s right-handed, there’s no chance that Wilson could platoon with Betancourt, who (i.e. Betancourt) has actually been effective-ish against lefties in his career.

Option No. 3: Minor Leagues (-0.5 Extra Wins)
Edwin Maysonet has played about two-thirds of Triple-A Nashville’s games at shortstop. Over that time — and over the other eight season he’s been in the minors — he’s done little to suggest that he’s even as good as Betancourt with the bat. There’s also the distinct possibility that his defense is slightly below average.

Eric Farris is a player with excellent speed and good minor-league contact rates who’s played some (17) games at shortstop in Nashville, but there are concerns about his arm strength, which has relegated him to playing second base. Ultimately, while Farris would be an interesting replacement for Betancourt, it’s unlikely that Farris would represent a legitimate improvement over Betancourt.

Option No. 4: Trade (0.5 – 3.0 Extra Wins)
Far be it from me to proclaim what assets in Milwaukee’s possession would be most valuable to a potential trade partner. Far be it from me, as well, to make any sort of confident guess as to how much salary the Brewers would be willing to absorb as part of a trade. Still, even proceeding cautiously, there appear to be enough tradable assets and enough payroll flexibility to give the Brewers some kind of bargaining power.

As for which players, specifically, might be available to the Brewers — and would also add something substantive in the way of wins — that’s a matter of speculation, obviously. If you turn your attention to the mostly infallible Yuni Matrix in the upper right-hand corner of this post, however, you can get a basic idea of this author’s thoughts on the matter.

Basically all of the players listed in said Matrix would likely represent some kind of improvement for the Brewers. Owing to their tepid bats, that might only be 0.5 wins from Toronto’s John McDonald and Seattle’s Jack Wilson. Looking at the top-left quadrant of same, we see Jose Reyes, a player who, though unlikely to be acquired, might add something like three wins to the Brewers.

Ultimately, it’s for Milwaukee and Doug Melvin to identify a player in the upper-right quadrant of the matrix — which, that’s where we find Dodger Rafael Furcal all by himself. For the cash-strapped Dodgers, 11 games out of first place in the NL West, dispensing of Furcal and the $5 million or so he’s owed makes a lot of sense — especially with prospect Dee Gordon capable of replacing Furcal.

If you don’t mind being optimistic for a moment, Clevelander Luis Valbuena is another option.Though he’s had limited major-league success (-1.5 WAR in 770 PA), he’s slashed an impressive .313/.379/.511 (.355 BABIP) at Triple-A Columbus this season, is only 25 years old, and is expendable for the Indians with shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera in the midst of his best season and prospect Jason Kipnis looking to take over second base in the near future. Valbuena’s defense might be below average at short, but his upside is probably 1.0 – 1.5 wins over Betancourt.

Even the acquisition of Wilson Betemit — currently blocked at third in Kansas City by Mike Moustakas — would likely represent a net gain at shortstop, even if Betemit defends more poorly than Betancourt.

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Carson Cistulli occasionally publishes spirited ejaculations at The New Enthusiast.

75 Responses to “The Brewer Shortstop Problem™”

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  1. GP says:

    Just curious, where would you put Jamey Carroll on the matrix?

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  2. Derek says:

    I bet they wish they still had JJ Hardy

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    • Dan says:

      No, we don’t. We got rid of Hardy for a reason, he’s having a good year, but i’m absolutely certain its a fluke

      -20 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Yirmiyahu says:

        Open your eyes. The Brewers made the mistake of selling low and underrating defense.

        .361 wOBA this year (.836 OPS). His K, BB, and BABIP numbers are typical for him; only his power is up.

        He has a career .327 wOBA (.754 OPS). For his career, he has 3.55 WAR per full season (600 PA’s).

        He’s one of the best defensive shortstops in baseball. For his career, he’s got +42.1 runs (UZR), +34 runs (BIS DRS), or +18 runs (Total Zone). So something like +4 to +8 runs/season.

        Even if you think what he did in 2009-2010 is his true talent (.302 wOBA), that’s still a league average player.

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      • O's fan says:

        I hope not! Looks like we might sign him….

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      • chuckb says:

        He was a very good player when you dumped him and he’s a very good player today.

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      • Roger says:

        They traded Hardy because they wanted to open up the spot for Escobar… then they went and traded Escobar to KC for Greinke and got stuck holding the old maid (betancourt)

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    • jlebeck66 says:

      I am a Tigers’ fan by birth, but I am an adoptive son of Wisconsin by location and root for the Brewers as my NL team. Yes, yes, yes, I wish they still had Hardy… I did not want Hardy to go. I understand Alcides was coming from behind, but I would have asked Hardy to go to 3B before I moved him.

      Good “D” and an iffy bat makes for a quality SS in the post Rodriguez/Jeter/Garciaparra period.

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    • STEALTH says:

      As a Brewers fan, I wasn’t sad to JJ Hardy go. Escobar excited me, and I thought Gomez had room to grow on offense.

      Fast forward to the present, and I would kill to get JJ back. I’ve heard it said, “you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone.”

      Betancourt. Yuck. How can anyone’s defense be worse than his? The few Brewers games I’ve been able to watch this year have showcased Yuni’s dreadful defense… ground balls that seem so routine just get by him. Just terrible.

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    • Dave M says:

      You’re goddamn right we do.

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  3. sean says:

    Their Thirdbase situation isn’t much better: Casey Mcgehee and Mat Gamel, with a Craig Counsell fill in. This should be called “The Brewer’s Left Side of the Diamond Problem™”

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  4. Yirmiyahu says:

    The way you began the article, I thought you were going to suggest that the Brewers acquire Aybar, and the Angels acquire Reyes.

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  5. rbt says:

    The thought of Wilson Betemit playing shortstop sends chills down my spine.

    Big problem for the Brewers here is they have virtually nothing desirable in the minors left to trade, no matter what says. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: This is the price Doug Melvin paid for selling his soul to the devil. That said, I don’t disagree with his decision to do so. Sometimes you just gotta go for it.

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  6. John McDonald says:

    Who do you think you are, putting John McDonald in that bottom right corner? Sure, he can’t hit but he pretty damn amazing defensively.

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    • Benjamin says:

      +2 wins for your career isn’t that good, buddy. especially when you’re -1.5 oWAR (at shortstop, no less!) and all of your value comes from defense

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      • DD says:

        But all of Yuni’s value comes from nowhere…

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      • Yuni Betancourt says:

        Hey, that’s not true. I’ve got 112.6 career runs from replacement, and 39.4 career runs from positional scarcity.

        You gotta give me some credit for showing up to work.

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  7. Frank McCourt says:

    I think trading for Miguel Tejada would be a big upgrade. His arm strength is still there, and his range is still impressive. His plus speed would give the Brewers more flexibility on the base paths. His biggest asset would be his bat. A .300/.350/.450 slash line with plenty of clutch hits wouldn’t be out of the question.

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    • juan pierre's mustache says:

      why try to be a better troll than the real mccourt? he wins every time. he’s like the kasparov of trolling baseball fans.

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    • Yirmiyahu says:

      What is this, 2006?

      Miguel Tejada has hit .260/.300/.364/.664 over his last thousand plate appearances and is no longer a shortstop.

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    • Templeton1979 says:

      Tejada? Among those with 300 plate appearances(Tejada 311, Betancourt 321), Tejada has the lowest wRC(20.1) in MLB compared to second worst Yuni B at 20.3! Tejada third worst wOBA at .257(Yuni B is second worst at .255) only Alex Rios is worse this season at .252! Also, Tejada has 19 XBH, Yuni B has 20. Both are horrible offensively.

      Also, while Tejada(-2.7 UZR, -5 rPM) is better defensively than Betancourt(-9.4UZR, -11 rPM) it wouldnt be much of an overall upgrade. Tejada’s career is pretty much done.

      If another offensive liability were to be obtained by trade, the Brewers would AT LEAST want plus defense, not something just a few inches above bottom of the barrel.

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    • jim says:

      this is absolutely one of the funniest comments i’ve ever seen on fangraphs

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  8. Sean says:

    I had an idea for a 3 way deal:

    Milwaukee receives: Jose Reyes
    Cleveland/Tampa/LAA/Arizona receives: Prince Fielder
    Mets receive: prospects

    This way the Brew crew goes from Yuni/Prince to Reyes/Gamel

    It’s a ballsy but logical move for all parties involved

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    • Bill says:

      The bet with this trade then is that even if Gamel needs a while to adjust, he still can’t possibly be as bad a hitter as Yuni. Another advantage is that it gives Gamel a third of the season to figure things out. He’s going to be the firstbaseman next year regardless, so it makes sense to get him experience now. Trading for Furcal (and not giving up a starter) would give the team a better chance to win now and their remaining prospect aren’t very good anyways, so if they can get Furcal, I think this would be the best move.

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    • Chris says:

      Cleveland wont deal the prospects necessary for the Mets to part with Reyes. Even if Milwaukee pitched in some (really, who do they have that the Mets would really value?) this isn’t going to happen.

      Cleveland also wouldn’t buy on Fielder straight up because they’d just lose him next year (no way in hell they would even try to resign him) and block potential development from LaPorta or force Hafner to ride the pine more often.

      That being said, Fielder could be the difference the Indians need to take the AL Central this year.

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    • chuckb says:

      There’s nothing logical about trading your best player while you’re sitting in first place at the All-Star break.

      Trading Prince for Reyes gets the Brewers absolutely nowhere.

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    • jim says:

      are you Frank McCourt from a couple posts above? you guys are classic!

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    • Matt W says:

      The Indians aren’t in need of a 1B with Matt LaPorta available as a hopeful long-term option. Also, Carlos Santana has the ability to play 1B as well as catch. Santana should hopefully pick up his average, but his 68:62 SO/BB rate is stellar.

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  9. Dom says:

    Just got posed this trade…I need pitching and could use a SS after Reyes went down.

    Felix Hernandez & Asdrubal Cabrera for Pujols.

    It’s a 12 team mixed keeper league. Is this a no-brainer for me? Just want to make sure I’m not crazy before I pull the trigger.

    -38 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Everett says:

      Does this look like an article about fantasy baseball?

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    • Bill says:

      Reyes won’t be down long, so unless you have a utility infielder spot on your roster, the trade really comes down to King for Pujols. In a 12 team mixed league, I’m guessing that there are still above average first basemen on your waiver wire, so I would go with the trade and then try and trade Cabrera or Reyes for a good first baseman.

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    • nyjer morgan says:

      especially if its a keeper league, you will be able to keep cabrera for dirt next year. assuming he was relatively cheap this year. then again it also depends on where albert lands after this season. if he ends up in baltimore, his value might decrease.

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  10. Eminor3rd says:

    Betemit at SS? Seriously?

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  11. Sean O'Neill says:

    The Brewers’ 3B fix is much simpler: Promote Taylor Green from AAA. The PCL is no doubt helping inflate his numbers, but he’s been reasonably productive at every level and would probably be an improvement over the disastrous McGehee. He can even backup 2B in case Weeks goes down at some point.

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  12. DD says:

    “these are they”

    Is this a Venture Brothers reference, perhaps? “Are these they?” If so, nice. If not, much appreciated nonetheless.

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  13. Love the chart and analysis. A few comments on the comments:

    -Trading away Fielder this season is a non-starter; keeping him has been the core piece of the Brewers’ all-in mentality for 2011. With the Brewers tied for first at the All-Star break, he’s not going anywhere.

    -The #2 spot is not so dismal against right-handed pitchers. Nyjer Morgan has served as team igniter. Against lefties, agree it’s dismal when Roenicke bats Gomez second, but once Braun returns, they can resume batting Corey Hart second.

    -Gamel unfortunately hasn’t hit a lick during call-ups either last season nor this season. The heir-apparent at either 1B or 3B is not nearly as apparent as before. Not sure who would take him in a trade at this point.

    -There’s still a chance Casey McGehee will come around in time, if he loosens up. I personally think they should have optioned him to AAA Nashville to get his swing and confidence back, but since they haven’t, Roenicke will have to work Wilson and Counsell in more often to keep him from pressing.

    -I agree that Wilson Betamit is not the answer. The thought of acquiring a shortstop worse defensively than Betancourt is upsetting to the soul.

    -Best identified option, I think, is Cleveland’s Luis Valbuena. This actually has some possibilities.

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    • Jason B says:

      Also they might want to let Hart hit 2nd or 5th regularly, rather than 6th behind McGehee. Better protection for the Prince and a chance to actually drive in a run or three. Who would rightfully pitch to him sandwiched between woeful McGehee and woefull-er Yuni?!?

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  14. Joelskil says:

    JJ Hardy should be waaaay over to the right. The O’s have nothing to hope for in the short term and can benefit from JJ’s great season by netting a nice return. The Brewers might not like taking him back though.

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    • STEALTH says:

      Might not like taking him back? With that defense and some semblance of a bat, it would be a massive upgrade. Do you think the Brewers management is immature enough to not acquire a good player at a position of need because they traded him a few years ago?

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    • Matt W says:

      The Orioles and Hardy are currently in serious talks for a long-term extension that JJ thinks will be done in the next month.

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  15. Max says:

    Trading for Hanley could be really interesting–it would provide a core to continue the team in the future with Ryan Braun, assuming they lose Prince. It also would probably not be feasible, given the state of their farm.

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  16. SC2GG says:

    I’d like to see where you put more players on this sweet XKCD-esque chart, like Yunel Escobar, Jerek Deter and Asdrubal. Why list just these guys?

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    • WY says:

      I think these are just the shortstops who are conceivably available in some sort of trade. Either they play on teams that are potential sellers, or the team has some other option at short. I think.

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  17. jackdunn'sbaby says:

    Read your interesting article fully expecting that you would devote a graph to the trade of J.J. Hardy.
    Also, since Hardy is in a walk-year, is he no longer welcome in Milwaukee, or was his trade to Baltimore the result of Melvin’s final judgment on the ability of Hardy to remain injury-free?
    We like him in the Land of Perpetual Rebuilding and hope to keep J.J. around until Manny Machado arrives — and beyond.

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  18. Goose says:

    Hardy would be welcome back in Milwaukee – the fans still like him, I think, despite his injury issues. I think a lot of people felt like he had some tough luck with the ‘Crew. Reyes is certainly a more interesting prospect. I lLOVE the thought of him playing for the Crew. How much would the Mets really need at this point? They are 11 games back and on the verge of losing him anyway. Granted they could pay some serious jack to keep him, but they might have that opportunity to do that at the end of the season even if he goes to the Brewers, esp if the Brewers keep Fielder.

    If the Brewers get Reyes soon, they win the central – as long as the starters stay fairly healthy.

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    • STEALTH says:

      I’m a Brewers fan, you’re delusional. They can’t acquire Reyes and they won’t be able to keep Prince.

      If the Crew weren’t in the thick of the central race, I’d say trade Fielder for Trumbo, Aybar, and change. But the pretty much have to keep him with them being in contention…

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  19. Rob says:

    Any thoughts on Mike Aviles? I see him is a perfect way to upgrade cheaply. He can handle ss, right?

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    • rbt says:

      Realize he’s in the minors right now, but I think the Royals still value him as a utility guy. Which, of course, doesn’t mean they won’t trade him, but it might make the asking price higher. Yes, he can play short; did so his entire rookie season.

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  20. DCUnited says:

    Maybe you could take Ian Desmond off the Nats hands so they can move Espinosa to his natural SS position and give Matt Antonelli the 2B job for a few months before the Steve Lombardozzi audition in September.

    I’ll take a bag of busted whiffle balls for him.

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  21. chuckb says:

    Isn’t it something that there are 4 teams in the race in the NL Central and all of them need, or could use, a major upgrade at SS. It seems to me that the team who does upgrade at SS is the team that’ll end up winning the division.

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  22. Tom says:

    Can the Dodgers trade Furcal with them in bankruptcy? I know the Rangers made some moves last year when they were in bankruptcy, but the Dodgers seem to be in a different scenario.

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  23. jim says:

    barmes might be an option, he’s an outstanding defender, and is almost league average at the plate this year (98 wRC+ with a career-high walk rate)… he’s pretty much having the best year of his career, and would probably be easy to acquire, which milwaukee needs since they run out 7 guys every day in AAA

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  24. Juancho says:

    Betemit is not a shortstop. He’s barely a third baseman. Aviles could be had, but not for free, as he’s the emergency utility infielder; right now they’re playing with no backup SS on the MLB team. He’s had a bad MLB season this year OBP-wise, but is beating up AAA pitchers right now.

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  25. Antonio Bananas says:

    In articles we should also consider 3 way trades. Brewers need a MLB player, but don’t have prospects, so we need to find a team needing a salary dump and a team with prospects who could use something the Brewers have. I don’t know enough about the Crew to be able to say what they should dump, I’d say selling high on a reliever to the team with prospects maybe.

    Maybe Furcal to the Crew, LaTroy Hawkins to the Angels, and Tyler Chatwood to the Dodgers? Iunno, just spitballing at this point.

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  26. Cesar Izturis says:

    Why not trade for me,as I am better than Yuni. This can be proven because, if I was not better than Yuni, universe ending paradoxes would ensue. This would occur because Yuni would be better than someone, which is clearly against the laws which the baseball gods have created.

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  27. STEALTH says:

    As a Brewers fan, I’d say go after Furcal, Barmes, or Keppinger. Mostly because they all fit the description of “relatively cheap” and “better than Yuni B.”

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  28. Ryan Braun says:

    ok people this is how its gona work. we keep my boy prince because he leads this team and he wants to stay. and when everybody is healthy who besides pujols is better? who the hell cares how much we pay him he brings in tickets and keeps us in the race. then since this is our apparent “all in year” we go all in on jose and trade yuni, kameron loe, mat gamel, maysonet, taylor green, erik komatsu,and cash and hope the mets bite on the deal. we resign prince so no need for gamel in the future. can you imagine prince and me 3-4 for the next 5 or 6 years, one of the best 3-4 in the league. 1reyes2rickie3myself4prince5corey6casey7nyjer8jon lucroy
    playoffs baby!!!

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