Monday, February 22, 2010

A final word on Russell Branyan

On Friday, reported that Russell Branyan decided to sign a contract with the Cleveland Indians. The contract is believed to be a one-year contract with a $2 million base and up to $1 million in additional incentives. The deal would also reportedly include a 2011 mutual option worth $5 million. The deal is contingent on Branyan passing a physical with Indians doctors in Goodyear, AZ some time early this week.

On where Branyan will play: Over Branyan's career, he's played both corner outfield positions, both corner infield positions and DH-ed. In 2009, he played exclusively as a first baseman for the Mariners before his bad back ended his season at the start of September. In 2007 and 2008, he played mostly third base. In 2006, the majority of his games came in the outfield, although he played several games at third as well. So what does this mean for Branyan in 2010?

The key is the back. I can't imagine that Branyan is seriously being considered for the outfield, other than in spot duty for a couple of games. I also can't imagine that he would play third base for any extent of time. There may not be a position more rigorous on the back than third base. That leaves first base and DH. Matt LaPorta is reportedly penciled in as the starter at first base. The right-handed hitting LaPorta is coming off surgery, although the belief is that he'll be ready long before opening day. Are the Indians really saying that LaPorta isn't ready offensively? Are the Indians also saying that they may be playing LaPorta in left as well? I know, there isn't a way that makes sense.

Perhaps they are thinking that Hafner will go down again at some point at DH. I could have seen the Indians sign a power bat to platoon with Hafner, but they are both left-handed, which precludes that move. The problem at DH in any scenario is that Branyan signed with the Tribe because he felt he'd get more at bats. So where will he play? I have to believe he's going to find himself at first for the majority of at bats, while filling in for both LaPorta in left and Hafner at DH, when needed. The Indians are likely playing the percentages here, thinking that someone is going to get hurt or traded. The odd man out in this scenario is Michael Brantley. He's still young, so look for the kid to start the season at triple A.

No, it's not perfect, but it is what it is.

On Russell Branyan's offense: It's pretty simple with Branyan. He strikes out in nearly 40% of his at bats, or hits mammoth homeruns. His career OPS is .822, which is above the league average, and is mostly because of his slugging, although he does have a career .333 OBP, which is right around the league average. He'll likely bat fifth or sixth in the line-up, providing protection to the clean-up slot. I just don't see Branyan getting regular at bats in Cleveland, especially if they are going to take a serious look at both Brantley and LaPorta. Don't forget, these are the players at the center of the Sabathia deal, and LaPorta is 25-years old. No, he's not exactly old, but he's not a young prospect either. Brantley will turn 23 this year, so there is still some time to develop.

On Branyan's future: I really find that mutual option at $5 million interesting. For those that don't know, the mutual option needs both the club and the player agreeing to the terms. I can't imagine a scenario that would have the Indians keeping Branyan for the 2011 season. Either he plays out of his mind and the Indians trade him prior to July, or he doesn't play at all, and they don't exercise the option year. I don't see Branyan sticking around that long. Like his at bats, his year with Cleveland will either be a big hit (trade) or miss (release).

On addressing the need for a right-handed bat, or a utility-type player:
Branyan can't bat right-handed that I know of, so they still have a hole on the right side of the plate. I also can't fathom Branyan in that utility role that Casey Blake and Jolbert Cabrera made famous. Branyan's body is breaking down, and unless someone tells me or shows me different, I just don't see him filling that role this season.

On my feelings for the signing: I really don't get the move at all. I suppose Shapiro and Antonetti felt that spending $2 million was an easy way to get some prospects at the deadline. Of course, if Shapiro really believes this club could contend in 2010, perhaps management is viewing this move as one that could put them over the top in the central.

Either way, welcome back Russell the Muscle, for however long you are back, that is.

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