FIrst off, credit goes to the always thought-provoking Taj Adib for his fanpost suggesting a Braun-y picker upper. While I think the trade proposal itself is not realistic I actually think the target is right on.
It's tempting to look at a pretty deep class of free agent outfielders and hope the A's can nab one of them. Jason Heyward and Justin Upton may be off limits, but from Gerardo Parra, Dexter Fowler on down to Will Venable and Austin Jackson, there are multiple intriguing options. However, on the free agent market you are going to overpay and you are likely to lose out once you zero in on one guy you really want. The A's aren't going to get into a bidding war and for good reason: You end up overpaying for a solid player like Parra or you end up settling for a decent player like Venable.
For that kind of money, the A's could land Braun who, at age 32, is still thriving and who is under contract for 5 more seasons. Braun will make $105M over the next 5 years, but the Brewers would not have to kick in that much salary to bring the contract down into the range of what guys like Parra will likely command annually following the customary off-season bidding war (aka, overpayapalooza).
What the A's have right now is payroll flexibility. The question is, "On whom should they use it?" A slightly below average defensive LFer, here's a look at Braun's 2015 stats:
Overall: .270/.343/.488 with 19 HRs and 16 SBs in 18 attempts.
vs. LHPs: .295/.396/.551
vs. RHPs: .264/.328/.472
Put all of that together and you have pretty much what you might have hoped for from Matt Holliday had he signed a long-term contract with the A's in his early 30s. Braun is still a very, very good player and figures to be an impact hitter for several more years, the kind of veteran masher you would love to have anchoring a young core coming up hoping to compete hard in 2017-19. Add Braun to the 2016 lineup along with perhaps one more key addition and it becomes a lot easier to see the team contending.
Check out this lineup:
Burns - CF
Valencia - 3B
Vogt - C
Braun - LF
Reddick - RF
Lawrie - 2B
Ravelo - 1B
Butler - DH
Semien - SS
With Valencia and Braun added, along with Ravelo and (for now) Butler, you have a 2016 lineup that could potentially be as good or better against LHP as it is against RHP. It's actually a pretty good lineup.
Now to the all-important question of what the A's would have to give up in order to bring Braun to Oakland. The Brewers would reasonably demand good young talent in return, and while the A's have indicated they do not plan to trade prospects for veterans this off-season you would think that they might be interested in Braun because he is not, as Ben Zobrist was, a short-term piece.
Perhaps the Brewers kick in $30M to leave the A's with a 5-year, $75M commitment to Braun. Perhaps they put a combination of Matt Olson, Renato Nuñez, Sean Nolin and Dillon Overton in play -- these are no longer the A's top prospects, but they are "ouch" second tier ones. Is there a deal there that would satisfy the Brew Crew and which would also make the A's better positioned for these next few years? What do you think the A's would have to give in order to get Braun and $30M coming back to Oakland?
With Braun I can see the team being significantly better in 2016 and significantly better in 2017-19. If you still have, say, Aaron Brooks, Rangel Ravelo, Sean Manaea, Chad Pinder, Matt Chapman, Jacob Nottingham,
Cory (names are harrrd) Casey Meisner, Daniel Mengden, and Franklin Barreto in the pipeline (along with 1-2 of Olson, Nuñez, Nolin, Overton), you are still building with some real quality and depth.