Monday, July 22, 2013

The Vaguely Silver Lining: Six Reasons Why Ryan Braun's Suspension Isn't All That Bad

By Evan Rytlewski
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In the end, history will show that Ryan Braun was guilty. Unambiguously guilty. The evidence was apparently so stacked against the Brewers' star outfielder that when MLB handed down a 65-game suspension to Braun today, he didn't even contest it. After 18 months of vigorously denying allegations of PED use, and fighting off threatened suspensions like a caged animal, Braun just threw up his hands and accepted the inevitable. "As I have acknowledged in the past, I am not perfect," he said in a statement today. "I realize now that I have made some mistakes. I am willing to accept the consequences of those actions.”

And so the the face of the Brewers franchise is a cheat, a liar and, by almost any standard, an asshole. That's something that fans are going to have to reconcile in the weeks, months and years to come. In the short term, though, Braun's suspension isn't the worst thing for this team, which has already endured bigger heartbreaks this season. Here are six reasons why Braun's downfall could have been much worse.

The season was shot anyway.
Thanks to an epic plague of injuries and some minor-league-caliber starting pitching, any realistic chances the Brewers had of making the playoffs ended in May. For any fans still holding out hope of this team evening finishing .500, having Braun out of the picture only makes it easier to accept the coming fire sale. Let the rebuilding begin.

Braun will return in 2014.
MLB's wrath wasn't as severe as it could have been. The league had reportedly been seeking a 100-game suspension for Braun, which would have dampened the Brewers' already slim chance of truly competing in 2014. Now fans know that, at the very least, Braun will be back behind the plate next April.

The Brewers get to keep some of Braun's salary.
The Brewers are doling out something like $84 million in payroll this season, which is a lot of money for a team that had already stopped pretending to be viable playoff contenders by the time it was T-shirt weather. At least they'll get some of that lost investment back. Braun will forfeit the rest of his salary for the season, a not-inconsiderable $3.5 million.

Braun was injured anyway.
It seems likely that Braun would have missed at least some of those 65 games anyway. The left-fielder has seen his productivity and his playing time hampered by a thumb injury that put him on the DL before the All-Star break. If fans thought "thumb injury" sounded like an innocuous enough ailment at first, as it continued to sideline him week after week, it became clear that he was battling some potentially serious nerve damage. The premature end to his season will ensure that he doesn't rush his recovery.

This will motivate Braun.
Ryan Braun cannot clear his name, but there is one way that he can at least save face: by continuing to play ball at the caliber he did before the PED allegations made him the most hated player in the NL. His legacy is on the line. If he can't produce near 2011-level numbers, he'll go down as one of the game's great cheats, but if he can continue to be a bedrock of this team, over time the narrative around him will soften. At 29, he still has plenty of time to redeem himself. With work, he could be remembered as a great player who happened to cheat, not a cheater who passed himself off as a great player.

He was guilty. Really, really guilty.
Braun used PEDs. Brewers fans have spent the last 18 months in good faith denying that reality. Now they can enjoy the relief that comes with no longer having to defend a player who never deserved to be defended.
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