The Washington Times - May 15, 2008, 03:54PM
Brewers slugger Ryan Braun SEE RELATED:

\ The contract is sure to turn some heads, if for no other reason than Braun has played just 152 games in the majors, the equivalent of less than a full season. Of course, he did win NL Rookie of the Year honors last year after batting .324, mashing 34 homers and driving in 97 runs despite not joining the team until the end of May. \

\ Braun’s signing continues a trend of teams locking up young stars in their pre-arbitration and pre-free agency years. I looked at this issue in-depth last month after the Tampa Bay Rays signed third baseman Evan Longoria to a deal worth as much as $47 million over nine years, despite just six games of major league experience. \

\ The deal essentially buys out three years of Braun’s arbitration years and possibly as many as three years of free agency. The numbers average out to just over $5.6 million per year, which could turn into a real bargain if he maintains his high level of play. In fact, industry sources I’ve spoken to say these types of deals are generally great for teams even if the player performs a level only slightly above league-average. \

\ (The Brewers decision to move him to the outfield from third base also makes this contract a better value, as he was terrible defensively at third last season.)\

\ So far this year, Braun is batting .287 and is among the league leaders in power with nine home runs and 29 RBI. His .318 on base percentage isn’t great, as he’s walked just eight times. But the Brewers clearly think he’s worth the risk. \

\ “Relative to the state of baseball, there’s a little bit of a sea change here,” Brewers owner Mark Attanasio told the Associated Press. “There’s been a number of young players now who are getting signed, and I think what you see is there’s a real economic incentive on both sides to do something.”\

\ Baseball Prospectus projects that Braun will average close to 40 home runs and 115 RBI through 2014. (Its projections only go out 7 years.) Braun’s comparable players, according to BP, include Frank Robinson, Alex Rodriguez, Jim Rice, Dave Winfield, Cal Ripken and Johnny Bench. For $5.6 million per year, that ain’t too shabby.\

\ But anyone feeling sorry for Braun need not worry. When this contract expires, he’ll be only 30, giving him at least one good opportunity to nail down a big free agent deal. \

\ — Tim Lemke