Branyan, Pena, and Trading

Everyone’s talking about Adrian Gonzalez as the first baseman that everyone will be chasing this summer, once the Padres finally decide to make him available for bidding. However, with the recent rumblings of the Rays interest in Russell Branyan, I have to think that Carlos Pena is more likely to be the big power hitter getting moved at the deadline.

The Rays are always planning ahead. Branyan is a very similar player to Pena, with all the same strengths and weaknesses (plus one additional weakness – a herniated disc in his back). While he could certainly split time with Pat Burrell at DH, I have to think that the Rays are looking to give themselves the flexibility to move Pena this summer.

If they fall out of the race, it’s a lock he’s getting moved. Headed towards free agency and turning 32 in May, Pena is not the kind of player that Tampa Bay will be paying full market value for. They don’t have the payroll to pay aging sluggers for their decline years.

However, I’d suggest that they may move Pena this summer even if they’re contending, especially if they add Branyan to the fold. If they’re convinced that Branyan is healthy, a platoon with him and Willy Aybar at first base is not a huge step back from what Pena provides. The combination of cost savings and the ability to get value back for him may prove too enticing to pass up, because if they keep Pena until the end of the year, they’re likely to have to let him leave for nothing.

Due to how arbitration and free agency have diverged the last few years, it will be almost impossible for the Rays to offer Pena arbitration, the necessary step to receiving draft pick compensation for a free agent that signs elsewhere. Pena would be able to take his HR and RBI numbers in front of an arbiter and ask for $15 to $20 million, easy. Yet, given how the market has shifted, he won’t be able to come near that AAV as a free agent. The Rays can’t take the risk that he accepts and eats up 30% of their payroll.

So, the Rays face a choice. Deal Pena this summer for value, or let let him leave as a free agent without compensation. As long as he’s still hitting bombs and driving in runs, it’s going to be hard for them to not listen to offers, especially if they have a suitable replacement in house.

If the Rays sign Branyan, I’d suggest it’s the first step towards Pena being traded this summer.

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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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Brad Johnson

It’s probably also the 1st step to Burrell being released outright. Only so many roster spots for defensively limited players.


I think that’s a big assumption. He’s on the last year of his deal, and if he can provide the offense he was expected to, I can see him lasting out the year.

Brad Johnson

True, I’m just wondering how Branyon could fit on the roster…By my count they have Bartlett, Zobrist, Pena, Longoria, Crawford, Upton, Kapler, Aybar, Navarro, and Shoppach locked in. That leaves 3 roster spots, one of which is likely to go to an INF super-util type like Sean Rodriguez and another is likely to go to Joyce/Perez to keep warm for Jennings and platoon with Kapler. That leaves one spot for Burrell/Branyon unless they go with an 11 man pitching staff. I suppose they could get away with that for half a season since they have so many guys with options.