The path to the NL Central title for the Cubs may have just gotten a little easier.
YokalSports.com first reported on their Twitter account that reigning NL MVP Ryan Braun has tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs. Braun faces a possible 50-game suspension, but he will dispute the positive test through arbitration.
After news of the positive test broke on Saturday, a spokesman for Braun issued this statement:
"There are highly unusual circumstances surrounding this case which will support Ryan's complete innocence and demonstrate there was absolutely no intentional violation of the program."
The spokesman went on to praise Braun's character and try to push any doubt aside that Braun is indeed innocent.
"While Ryan has impeccable character and no previous history, unfortunately, because of the process we have to maintain confidentiality and are not able to discuss it any further, but we are confident he will ultimately be exonerated."
According to Tyler Barnes, a spokesman for the Brewers, the commissioners office had yet to contact the team and Milwaukee didn't know anything about the positive test. ESPN's Fainaru-Wada and T.J. Quinn claim Braun told people close to him that he had no knowledge of taking PED's and the arbitration will prove he's innocent.
After signing a five-year contract extension for 105 million, Braun had the best season of his career. He hit .332 with 33 home runs, 111 RBI and recorded 33 stolen bases and led the Brewers to their first division title since 1982. Milwaukee was within two games of the NL Pennant when they were eliminated in the NLCS, 4-2 by the World Series Champion, St. Louis Cardinals.
MIAMI – Theo Epstein scoffed at the possibility of sending a World Series hero down to the minors on May 16, writing the headline with this money quote: “If anyone wants to sell their Kyle Schwarber stock, we’re buying.”
If the Cubs aren’t dumping their Schwarber stock, they’re definitely reassessing their investment strategy, trying to figure out how such a dangerous postseason hitter had become one of the least productive players in the majors.
The overall portfolio hasn’t changed that much since the team president’s vote of confidence, Schwarber batting .179 for the defending champs then and .171 when the Cubs finally made the decision to demote him to Triple-A Iowa. That 18-19 team is now 36-35 and still waiting for that hot streak.
What took so long?
“The honest answer is we believe in him so much,” general manager Jed Hoyer said Thursday. “He’s never struggled like this. We kept thinking that he was going to come out of it. We got to a point where we felt like mentally he probably needed a break before he could come out of this.
“The honest answer is patience. We’ve got a guy who’s never really struggled. He was the best hitter in college baseball. He blew through the minor leagues. Last year in the World Series, he performed. We just felt like he was going to turn himself around.
“It just got to a place where we felt like the right way for this to come together was to allow him to get away from the team, to take a deep breath and be able to work on some things in a lower-pressure environment.”
The Cubs plan to give Schwarber a few days off before he reports to Iowa, an idea that would have seemed unthinkable after watching his shocking recovery from knee surgery and legendary performance (.971 OPS) against the Cleveland Indians in last year’s World Series.
But preparing for one opponent and running on adrenaline through 20 plate appearances is completely different from handling the great expectations and newfound level of fame and doing it for an entire 162-game season.
This might actually be the most normal part of Schwarber’s career after his meteoric rise from No. 4 overall pick in the 2014 draft to breakout star in the 2015 playoffs to injured and untouchable during last year’s trade talks with the New York Yankees.
“There’s been a long and illustrious list of guys that have gone through this,” manager Joe Maddon said. “When a guy’s good, he’s good. Sometimes – especially when they’re this young – you just got to hit that reset button. It’s hard for a young player who’s never really struggled before to struggle on this stage and work his way through it.
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“There’s no scarlet letter attached to this. It’s just the way it happens sometimes. You have to do what you think is best. We think this is best for him right now. We know he’s going to be back.”
When? The Cubs say they don’t have a certain number of Pacific Coast League at-bats in mind for a guy who’s played only 17 career games at the Triple-A level.
Maddon pointed out how Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee needed minor-league sabbaticals/refresher courses before becoming Cy Young Award winners and two of the best pitchers of their generation.
New York Mets outfielder Michael Conforto – another college hitter the Cubs closely scouted before taking Schwarber in the 2014 draft – has gone from the 2015 World Series to Triple-A Las Vegas for parts of last season to potential All-Star this year.
The Cubs fully expect their Schwarber stock to rebound – whether or not the turnaround happens in time to impact the 2017 bottom line.
“I’m still sticking by him,” Maddon said. “But at some point, you have to be pragmatic. You have to do what’s best for everybody. We thought at this point that we weren’t going to necessarily get him back to where we need him to be just by continuing this same path.
“It’s not a matter of us not sticking with him anymore. We just thought this was the best way to go to really get him well, so that we could utilize the best side of Kyle moving forward.”
Tony Andracki, Scott Changnon and Jeff Nelson react in real time to the breaking news that Kyle Schwarber was demoted to the minor leagues. Plus, the trio play around with expansion drafts and who the most indispensable players on the Cubs are.
[RELATED - Inside the numbers on Schwarber's season-long struggles]
Patrick Mooney also goes 1-on-1 with Cubs swingman southpaw Mike Montgomery about the lanky lefty’s role and how he got here.
Check out the entire Podcast here.