Posted by: Larry Smith Jr. | February 22, 2010

Branyan to Cleveland

Buried among Saturday’s news of Johnny Damon signing with Detroit was the signing of Russell Branyan, the last true quasi-impact power bat left on the free agent market (depending on what you think of Jermaine Dye), with the Cleveland Indians.    This is a signing that is pending a physical and Branyan has had back problems in the recent past that make it a possibility (though a slim one) that he will not pass.   Assuming he does pass, the deal has been reported as guaranteed for the 2010 season at $2m with an extra million dollars in incentives and a mutual option for the 2011 season at $5m.

This appears on the surface to be an excellent deal for the Indians and a decent deal for Branyan.  He started his career in Cleveland and has bounced around from organization to organization throughout his career.  He never truly got an opportunity anywhere since leaving Cleveland when he was traded to Cincinnati in 2002, in spite of the fact that displayed big time power and has been an average-to-above average hitter for most of his career.   A third baseman for most of his career, he finally got an opportunity to play full-time for Seattle last year at first base in his age 33 season and was on his way to a monster year before back problems derailed his second half.   While his true talent level is almost certainly not as good as he was in the first half of last year, he still is a player that can provide plus value at first base.   At $2m, the Indians have very little exposure in the event that his age or his back catches up to him.   Meanwhile, if both player and team are pleased they can agree to renew for next season at a still-team-friendly rate of $5m.

In Branyan’s case, if he has a monster year that is more in line with what he did during his first half with Seattle, he can opt out of the renewal and chase a bigger contract next off-season, which works out for him.   While he’ll be working on the cheap this season, it’ll be worthwhile if he shows similar production to the beginning of 2009.

As far as his impact on the team, Branyan can be considered a major addition to an Indians team that was operating with a complete hole at first.  There were rumblings that they were going to attempt to try top prospect Matt LaPorta (acquired in the C.C. Sabathia deal) there, it seems a better use of resources to keep the younger LaPorta in the outfield and add another strong bat in Branyan to the first base position.   The other candidates for the job were a collection of players who are not likely to perform very well and even if so, are unlikely to perform as well as Branyan could — Former top prospect Andy Marte, Non-roster invitee Brian Buscher, and NRI Shelley Duncan — Therefore he comes in not really blocking anyone.    The only issue the Tribe could face is if he experiences a recurrence of the back issues during the season.   The Indians have a player with a massive(ly bad) contract perched firmly at Designated Hitter in Travis Hafner, who is still owed $37.5m guaranteed over the next three seasons in spite of not being healthy since 2007 and not being dominant since 2006.    Hafner’s price tag dictates that if he is healthy he will play, and therefore the Indians cannot hide Branyan at DH to keep his bat in the lineup if his back is barking on a particular day.   He either has to play the field or ride the pine.

All told, this was a great value deal for Cleveland.  While it may not significantly brighten their prospects for a competitive season, it ought to extract one or two more wins out of the season and provide a few more great moments at Progressive Field than what may have happened if the signing had not have taken place.

The numbers on Branyan are below:

Year PA BA OBP SLG HR wRC+ UZR/150* Rtot/yr.*
2009 505 .251 .347 .520 31 129 2.4 -1.6
2008 152 .250 .342 .583 12 138 18.3 35
2007 194 .196 .320 .423 10 104 0 -56.8
Car. 2824 .234 .331 .491 164 114 1.6 0.8


* – Numbers are for first base only.  In 2008 he only played 24 innings at first and in 2007 he only played six innings at first, which dramatically skews the numbers and makes them generally unreliable for those seasons.



  1. Branyan would be an excellent platoon candidate, but as an everyday player, his weaknesses will be quickly exposed. Last year will go down as his career year. Still, he’s better than any other option the Tribe had. Wonder why the Mets passed him up? Good post, Bill (

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