MILWAUKEE Last month, when speaking about Ryan Braun's chances of winning the National League Most Valuable Player award, Milwaukee Brewers principal owner and chairman Mark Attanasio said Braun would someday have a statue outside of Miller Park.
In just five seasons, Braun has gone from a highly touted rookie to MVP, and his name is already being mentioned in the same breath as Rollie Fingers and Robin Yount, two players who already have their statues outside Miller Park.
But when an ESPN report surfaced Saturday night that Braun has tested positive for use of a performance-enhancing drug, his name was quickly being mentioned in the same breath as players like Manny Ramirez and Rafael Palmeiro high-profile stars who were busted and suspended for using PEDs.
Statues are not built for those kinds of players.
Fortunately, here in America, we're innocent until proven guilty. In baseball, though, which has yet to fully recover from a steroids scandal the scope of which may never be known the court of public opinion often can't be swayed.
That's the problem Braun faces now as he awaits the results of an appeal.For a player who has been so meticulous about cultivating the image of a well-rounded, All-American, educated ballplayer rooted deeply into his franchise and that franchise's community, this is a pretty harsh black eye -- even if the allegations are proven false as Braun's representatives vehemently said Saturday that they will be.
But until the appeal process is complete, there is an even bigger concern: How in the world will the Brewers replace Braun's presence in the lineup should he indeed receive a 50-game suspension next season?
Braun would be the first in baseball history to beat such a rap so his team must start thinking about the reality of losing its four-time All-Star until a June 1 contest against Pittsburgh.
From a pure baseball standpoint, it can't get much worse for Milwaukee. With first baseman Prince Fielder's departure seemingly imminent, Braun is the focal point of the Brewers' offense heading forward. He's the team's best and most consistent hitter. He was the National League Most Valuable Player in 2011, and next season, without Fielder in the lineup to carry the load, the burden falls upon Braun to not just maintain but to elevate his production.
Losing Fielder was one thing. Losing Braun would mean the Brewers would open the season missing the duo responsible for 25 percent of last season's hits. 28 percent of the team's total runs scored, 33 percent of all runs driven in and 38 percent of home runs.
Even with five returning starting pitchers, the back end of the bullpen and key pieces in second baseman Rickie Weeks and right fielder Corey Hart, that's a lot of missing offense to replace. The logical candidate to fill in for Braun would have been Mark Kotsay, but he signed with San Diego. Center fielder Nyjer Morgan could be an option he played in left 17 times last season with Carlos Gomez starting in center. The minor league system might be the most logical solution, considering the situation the Brewers find themselves in this winter.Doug Melvin is already on a mission to find a first baseman; he might need a third baseman and definitely needs to find some more arms for the bullpen. Trying to pick up another outfielder, especially one who can make up for at least some of the lost production, is going to make a difficult winter all the more challenging.
The potential loss of Braun from the lineup won't completely eliminate the Brewers from playoff contention, but it certainly won't help their chances. What's worse is the overall blemish this puts on Braun and the franchise is something that could have repercussions that last well past the 50 games.