Braun dreaming about playoffs, not dollar signs

Braun dreaming about playoffs, not dollar signs

Braun dreaming about playoffs, not dollar signs
PHOENIX -- Ryan Braun realized he might be trading dollars for security when he signed his seven-year extension in 2008. Three years later, as Braun's contract looks more and more team-friendly and some of his peers -- like friend Troy Tulowitzki -- get richer with bigger pacts, some Brewers fans worry Braun will borrow a page from the NFL playbook and grow discontented with his own deal.

Worry not, Braun said, because it's not going to happen.

"I get it, but it's a non-issue," he said. "I pay attention to what goes on around the game, obviously, but I'm happy for all of those guys. I agreed to a deal three years ago that goes five [more] years, and I'm excited and honored to be here."

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It's not as if Braun is in the poorhouse -- he'll earn $45 million over the eight years of his current contract, still the richest guaranteed deal in Brewers history. It could be surpassed by the five-year, $50 million extension that Rickie Weeks signed last week, though the Brewers can void the final year of that contract if Weeks is not a regular in 2013-14 or he gets hurt. Since Braun signed, the Brewers have also agreed to extensions with pitcher Yovani Gallardo and outfielder Corey Hart.

Around baseball, teams have been locking up young stars. Braun took particular notice over the winter when the Rockies and shortstop Tulowitzki agreed to an extension that will pay about $158 million through 2020. Tulowitzki and Braun have been tied since they both went early in the 2005 Draft, Braun to the Brewers at No. 5 and Tulowitzki to the Rockies at No. 7.

Two and a half years later, Tulowitzki signed a seven-year, $31 million extension, a record for a player with so little big league service. Four months after that, Braun broke that record with his eight-year deal.

Now that Tulowitzki has financially leapfrogged Braun again, don't expect any jealousy.

"He's a good friend of mine and I'm happy for him," Braun said. "That's not something I even think about right now. I've enjoyed my time here. The fans have been incredible. The facility is great. I've enjoyed playing in Milwaukee and I'm signed up for at least the next five years. It's encouraging to me, seeing guys like Corey, Rickie, Yovani signing extensions. It makes me that much more confident in the decision I made a couple of years ago.

"I hope this is the beginning of a long period of success for the Milwaukee Brewers. After getting a taste of it in '08, I realize the difficulty of getting the postseason and winning there. It's not like football or basketball, where everybody gets in. You realize that the more core guys you're able to keep together, the better chance you're going to have at it."

Braun is one of the few players who can look back on a 25-home run, 103-RBI season and call it a disappointment. That's how Braun views his 2010, a year in which he struggled to find his power stroke but still managed to bat better than .300 and start his third consecutive All-Star Game.

He went home and made an honest assessment of his year, deciding he'd need to add strength over the offseason.

But he's not planning any dramatic changes to the routine that brought him to the Majors. Since Braun debuted in 2007, he ranks fifth among all players with a .554 slugging percentage, eighth with 420 RBIs, 10th with 128 home runs and 13th among qualifying players with a .307 batting average.

Among outfielders in that four-year span, Braun leads the way in home runs and slugging percentage, and only Matt Holliday of the Cardinals has more RBIs.

That level of production has earned Braun some status in the Brewers' clubhouse, and, given the relative proximity of their Southern California homes, earned him a visit over the winter from new manager Ron Roenicke, who made a two-hour drive to Malibu for dinner at Braun's favorite Italian restaurant.

It was a chance to get to know Braun's personality, and to pick his brain about the team.

"I was looking for both," Roenicke said. "I was looking for his perspective on the team and what it takes for us -- I think everybody knows it's a solid core, but what's it going to take for us to get to where every year, people are expecting us to be in the playoffs.

"And then other than to get to know him, what things on his end does he see that could improve his game? What are some of the issues that he say before?"

Roenicke made a point that he didn't single out Braun for any reason other than he lives in the Los Angeles area. Had Prince Fielder or Hart made their homes there, they would have been included, too.

Braun spent most of his winter close to home. He considered going to Dallas to watch his buddy Aaron Rodgers play in the Super Bowl, but decided against it because it would mean interrupting his winter workouts with one of baseball's fitness freaks -- former Brewers outfielder Gabe Kapler.

They used the facilities at Pepperdine University, less than a mile from Braun's seaside home. The school let the players use their gym and their baseball facilities, and the payoff is that the school's players got to watch Major Leaguers at work. Kapler signed with the Dodgers in the offseason.

"That guy is an animal," Braun said. "He's made me a much better athlete and helped me get bigger and stronger this offseason. I've known Gabe since I was 12, 13 years old, but this is the first offseason we've worked out. Trying to compete with him has made me better. His intensity is amazing every day."

Braun wanted to gain strength, especially in his lower body.

"I've ran more than I have in the past," Braun said. "And then I do a lot of explosive stuff, probably more football workouts than baseball. Hang cleans, power cleans, heavy squats. I do a lot of medicine-ball stuff, core stuff.

"I feel like I have to lift heavy to get the most out of myself and my body. I've always been relatively small and skinny, so to be as big and strong and as explosive as I can, I have to lift heavy."

He's focused on one thing for 2011.

"Playoffs," Braun said. "Ultimately, that should be every team's goal going into the season, but for us, this year, I think it's very realistic."

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Brew Beat, and follow him on Twitter at @AdamMcCalvy. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.