Questions abound for Braun, Brewers
Spring training is literally around the corner for the Milwaukee Brewers and Major League Baseball, as pitchers and catchers start filing into Phoenix in five days. The rest of the team, including outfielder Ryan Braun, will be required to report a few days later.
For the second straight year a cloud hangs over the opening of camp for the Crew, and once again it has settled over the head of the 2011 National League Most Valuable Player.
This leads to a couple of concerns.
First, there are legitimate questions to ask about Braun and his legal team regarding Biogenesis, a Florida-based anti-aging clinic that allegedly supplied several major leaguers with performance enhancing drugs.
Why did they contact the facility and its doctors? How did they know to? Did Braun maintain a relationship with his University of Miami strength coach (now suspended pending further investigation) or former Hurricanes teammates who are reportedly involved with Biogenesis?
It's too ... sticky. And it doesn't look good no matter how much sense the statements Braun and his counsel make. As I wrote last week, the specter of PED use will never leave Braun's side. These things don't help.
What will benefit Braun, at least in the short term, is that he's playing for the United States in the World Baseball Classic. The WBC performs its own drug testing under the auspices of the International Baseball Federation, which uses the same protocols as the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), which oversees Olympic competition.
And then, Major League Baseball begins in-season testing for human growth hormone this year for the first time.
Because of all this, there is a segment of the population that believes Commissioner Bud Selig would like to bring the hammer down on Braun because the outfielder became the first player to successfully appeal a positive test and suspension.
The league has an avenue in which to punish Braun. According to this ESPN.com report, baseball can "discipline a player without a positive test if there is a preponderance of evidence that the person doped or tried to dope. It's called a non-analytic positive."
No one really knows if Selig wants Braun's head on a plate, but if the league does come down on him believe this – they'll do so with rock solid evidence they're sure can't be overturned on an appeal. They don't want to leave the ring with Braun and his legal team with two black eyes.
What would that mean for the Brewers? It would mean 50 games without the best player in the National League. It would mean Corey Hart's injury hurts a lot worse. It would mean Doug Melvin would have to make a move to bring in a veteran bat for the short term.
Would it mean the season is over? Not by a long shot. The success of the 2013 Brewers, whether Braun is disciplined or not, still hinges on how relatively unproven starting rotation produces. If that group is terrible, the team would be terrible with or without the MVP.
If Braun has to sit out runs will be harder to come by, but if the pitching is solid the team will be able to tread water until his return.
Rickie Weeks is starting the year healthy. Carlos Gomez and Nori Aoki will be playing full time out of the gate. Jonathan Lucroy is an All-Star candidate. The biggest offensive burden will be placed on Aramis Ramirez, as the team wouldn't be able to withstand another of his slow starts, but this lineup is loaded.
Even if the team started dreadfully, say dropped to 10 or 11 games under .500 by the end of May, this group believes it can come back. They nearly did in just a month's time at the end of last year – they won't give up with four months to go.
It's fair to wonder about Braun and the Brewers' immediate future as this story develops, but so much is yet to be determined. Let it play out - there's no reason to panic or make definitive judgments one way or the other at this point.
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