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Braun wouldn't veto third amendment

Posted: Nov. 16, 2007

Michael Hunt
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After all the confetti and balloons from Ryan Braun's National League rookie of the year award were swept aside, the Milwaukee Brewers were left with the decision of where to play their precocious slugger.

Third base may or may not be his long-term spot. A poor fielder, Braun had to be removed for defensive purposes in late innings, which not only embarrassed him but also eliminated a bat that produced the highest slugging percentage for any rookie in big-league history.

It is possible that Braun, who became a third baseman mostly after he turned pro, will learn to adequately play the position. Ned Yost has requested that he take 1,000 ground balls a day during the off-season, a drill that Braun will soon begin in California. Mets third baseman David Wright became a passable defender, so, yes it is possible.

Problem is, the Brewers don't have a lot of time for Braun to demonstrate that he won't hurt them defensively. The Brewers lost the NL Central by two games last season partly because they were a bad defensive team. The window of opportunity in the division will continue to narrow with Chicago's money and St. Louis' resolve.

After Braun's presentation to the local media Tuesday, I asked general manager Doug Melvin where the Brewers will eventually play their natural-born hitter. Melvin said Braun was completely open to change, that he would willingly go to the left-field spot vacated by Geoff Jenkins and learn the position.

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Presumably, Braun would do less defensive damage in an outfield corner if he doesn't report to Maryvale in three months with a better grip on the infield corner. But that's a spring-training decision for Yost to make. In the meantime, it gives Melvin more options in the free-agent market. He could, for example, sign a third baseman.

That doesn't mean the Brewers will go after Miguel Cabrera. They won't be able to afford the Marlins' slugging third baseman, especially if they re-sign closer Coco Cordero. And even if Cordero doesn't return, Melvin flat-out said there were no "big deals" out there for the Brewers to make. Even with all those sellouts and revenue sharing, the Brewers still have to be careful with their money because one day they will have to pay Braun and at least make a run at Prince Fielder, although that may be futile as Fielder is represented by Scott Boras, a small market's worst nightmare.

In the meantime, you trust that the Brewers will continue to do the right things with Melvin and Jack Zduriencik, the Brewers' director of amateur scouting. Like Melvin, Zduriencik is one of the best around, especially when it comes to identifying talent for an organization that cannot afford to make mistakes.

The Brewers are where they are because of Fielder and Braun, Rickie Weeks, J.J. Hardy, Corey Hart, Bill Hall, Yovani Gallardo and all the homegrown talent.

"Over the years we haven't had extra picks like other clubs, so we've shot for the moon," Zduriencik said. "Some of them we've hit on have turned out to be pretty good."

Still, Braun, like Fielder, was not a consensus pick.

"We've gone on our instincts," Zduriencik said. "We've focused by the best player. We've not focused by position."

The Brewers get them up and in because the opportunity exists here.

"The question we always ask is, do you want to play N-O-W," Zduriencik said. "There's a way to fit guys in who can play."

And so it will be with Braun.

Send e-mail to mhunt@journalsentinel.com


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From the Nov. 17, 2007 editions of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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