Counterpoint: Why Branyan, Why Now?

Yesterday, Jack Moore gave us a compelling, analytical, and thoughtful defense of the Russell Branyan trade:

The theory behind the Branyan trade – acquiring wins in a down season at a low cost in order to further development and, more importantly, increase revenues – appears solid. What it really depends on is if the Mariners’ evaluation of the prospects involved is correct. If, as the Mariners seem to think, Carrera and Diaz are nothing more than organizational depth, the trade is absolutely the right move, as the wins this season very well could increase potential payroll in seasons to come, and typically, that will mean more wins as well. If it turns out that one of these two prospects is a legitimate Major League talent, then trading that future value for a gain in this lost season is the incorrect move.

Good stuff, and I am not one to doubt the scouting skills of Jack Z and his great staff in Seattle. However, this one is certainly a head scratcher, and after thinking on it, I just can’t find myself in favor of this deal.

I understand the concept of wanting to create an atmosphere of winning, especially for young players and a passionate fan base, even if it means a marginal sacrifice. However, while Branyan could certainly be worth 2.0 WAR for the Mariners going forward, he might stink. He may be worth -1.0 WAR, hitting terribly and playing bad defense. Now I’m not saying that it’s likely, but certainly possible.

The difference, however, is that Branyan’s contribution to the 2010 Mariners, whether it be -3 or 3 wins, will not be the tipping point in their playoff hopes. Their season is pretty much over in terms of playoff competition, so his actual on-field contribution is pretty irrelevant. While the players Seattle gave up weren’t exactly blue chip prospects, their potential value is one that could be of service to the Mariners much more so than Branyan’s current value.

Ezequiel Carrera was ranked as the Mariners’ 12th-best Prospect by John Sickels this past off season, with Sickels writing that Carrera is a, “Speed demon, hits for average, draws walks, good glove, no power, future reserve outfielder but a useful one.” That certainly isn’t an outright endorsement, but Carrera has the potential to give the Mariners something in the long term. With similar comments, Kevin Goldstein at Baseball Prospectus rated him 14th in the M’s system. He’s currently hitting .268/.339/.315 in Triple-A as a 23-year-old, nothing too shabby. Baseball America rated him as the Fastest Baserunner in the M’s system, as well as having the Best Strike Zone Discipline. If he plays a solid defense like Sickels said, he could bring some value.

The Mariners also gave up SS Juan Diaz, who was hitting .295/.345/.433 in High-A ball. It’s an offensive-heavy league, no doubt, but at 21 years old, it’s tough to be too down on those numbers. If you don’t believe he can hit, put him in Double-A and ask him to sink or swim.

These two prospects are no lock to ever see a Major League clubhouse outside of Spring Training, but they still have potential for decent upsides, or at least to be used as trading chips when the Mariners are more competitive in (hopefully, for Dave Cameron’s sake) the near future.

I know this may seem cliche, and almost unfair, but I need to see something more quantifiable than “creating a winning atmosphere” as a reason for trading for Branyan. Branyan could destroy the baseball, and he could be terrible, with the greater likelihood somewhere in between. Still, as said earlier, his production won’t mean much tangibly.

Why else don’t I like this deal? Because there are other, cheaper options available. I wrote about one of them in early May, saying that with “nobody else carrying the load, Jack Z should give Gary Sheffield a chance.” Look, if you want to argue about whether or not Sheffield will hit at Safeco, fine. But the larger point still remains: there are free agents out there that can be had, for cheap, that could put up similar numbers to Branyan (i.e. Elijah Dukes). Even if Sheffield or Dukes would only put up 1 WAR, whereas Branyan puts up 3, is the difference that significant to give up two prospects and spend more money?

If Jack Z goes ahead and spins Branyan as a larger package involving Cliff Lee, I’ll take back every word I said. I don’t think this deal is a terrible one, but just one I don’t see very much reason to make if I’m the Mariners.



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Pat Andriola is an Analyst at Bloomberg Sports who formerly worked in Major League Baseball's Labor Relations Department. You can contact him at Patrick.Andriola@tufts.edu or follow him on Twitter @tuftspat


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Random Guy
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Random Guy
6 years 26 days ago

As a Mariner fan I’m inclined to agree with the above: the Branyan trade is at best a head scratcher.

I also note that a big reason why Jack Z has such a wonderful reputation is the amazing haul that he received in the three-way J.J. Putz trade. But with this move it looks like he has given up on two of the more interesting pieces from that trade — Carrera and also Mike Carp. I guess Franklin Gutierrez alone for Putz, Luis Valubena and Jeremy Reed is still a good trade, and Maikel Cleto remains an intriguing prospect, but the luster seems to be coming off.

All I can say is, the dude better pull of something brilliant for Cliff Lee, or I might start to think the M’s aren’t a top-6 franchise.

Bill
Guest
Bill
6 years 26 days ago

Jack Z’s reputation as a trader is also based on the way he stole Lee from the Phillies.

200tang
Guest
200tang
6 years 26 days ago

They need a 1B in 2011 and it’s certainly NOT Mike Carp. Have you seen the FA pool? It’s likely headlined by Carlos Pena who isn’t exactly a world beater. Sure, Branyan may suck, but it cost you 2 future utilities players. Nothing to lose sleep over and Branyan fills a spot for the 2011 M’s.

200tang
Guest
200tang
6 years 26 days ago

It should also be pointed out that appeasing his bosses and casual fans is his job. We may not see any difference between 95 losses and 80 if you miss the playoffs, but I guarantee you his bosses do and casual fans want to watch something other than what the M’s are now.

As for SHeff and Dukes…really? There’s a reason those guys are both still FAs.

Dave Cameron
Admin
Member
6 years 26 days ago

The Mariners offered him $4 million last winter. He turned it down. He only settled for the $2 million after the market had dried up and it was his only option.

200tang
Guest
200tang
6 years 26 days ago

Actually, the Mariners DID try and sign Branyan in the last off-season, but he decided to test the FA market and then waited to long so the Mariners decided to move on because they didn’t want to wait for him. It sounded like JackZ tried his hardest to re-sign him.

http://www.mlbtraderumors.com/2010/02/disappointing-offseason-for-russell-branyan.html

“The slugger, represented by Dan Lozano, entered free agency seeking a three-year deal in the $20-30MM range according to ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick. Branyan rejected a one-year offer with a club option to return to the Mariners, and they moved on to Casey Kotchman and Ryan Garko.”

StevenV
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StevenV
6 years 26 days ago

With what Dave and 200tang said, he also wanted a multi-year deal, and the Mariners didn’t want to do that.

Cleveland is paying for the 2011 buyout so Branyan will be a FA again at the end of the year. Though I’m wondering if Jack Z is looking for a supplemental pick.

Choo
Member
6 years 26 days ago

Milton Bradley and Elijah Dukes? Are you crazy? Putting mankind at risk in an effort to save a couple of fringe prospects seems selfish to me. Ah, what the hell. I have always wondered just how hilarious it would be if the two were depicted as an animated superhero duo:

. . . In a galaxy somewhat far away, we zoom in on the volatile duo fighting a team of pasty-skinned beat writer bad guys . . .

Milton Bradley: “Summon . . . Tears of Rage!”

Elijah Dukes: “Hey! Tears of Rage is my special move!”

Milton: “Not anymore, you @#@#&@#$&# son of a @#*(&^@#(@&#.”

Elijah: “Son of a what!?!”

Milton: “Son of a @#*(&^@#(@&#.”

Elijah: “Oh, well in that case you are right . . . but don’t make me threaten you with murder via text!” (Elijah pulls phone from utility belt for dramatic effect).

Milton: “Oh yeah?” (Attempts to kick Elijah’s phone but shreds his own ACL instead) “Aggggggh!”

Elijah: “Now that’s what I call Tears of Rage.”

(Everyone stops fighting and enjoys a good laugh together.)

Rui
Guest
6 years 26 days ago

A -1.0 WAR going forward is probably still better than what the Mariners were going to get out of the 1B position. The Mariners were sub-replacement level at 1B and DH (other than Sweeney), so even a replacement level hitter will be an improvement. Personally, I think Branyan is a much better hitter than that, so the move makes sense with Jack Moore’s logic

BobLoblaw
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BobLoblaw
6 years 26 days ago

I love all this Mariners perspective stuff, but shouldn’t the counterpoint be, “Why two Seattle scrub prospects? Why Now?”

Cleveland, IMO, could’ve got more from the teams that fail to land either Dunn or Gonzalez (who might not even get traded) a little later in the season. No?

Jason B
Guest
Jason B
6 years 26 days ago

Perhaps, but what contending team will be in need of a 1B/DH type? The best fits would seem to be in the AL Central as a cost-effective DH that could move Andruw Jones to the bench (for instance), but I’m not sure Cleveland would have moved him within the division. Maybe the Mets could talk themselves into his “veteran presence” being of more value than turning 1B over to an untested kid in the postseason? I dunno. Just really not sure how Branyan would provide a meaningful upgrade to most contending teams.

Choo
Member
6 years 26 days ago

The #1 goal for the M’s in the coming weeks is to squeeze as much juice out of a potential Cliff Lee trade as possible. No, Branyan wouldn’t be an upgrade to most teams in their starting lineup, but as a mashing PH/DH coming off the bench and getting spot starts in September and October? There is legitimate value in that. Acquiring a patient LH PH/DH masher is practically a right of passage for playoff contenders who don’t already have one on their roster, and those are the same teams calling about Cliff Lee.

Bob Loblaw
Guest
Bob Loblaw
6 years 26 days ago

Angels. White Sox. It’s not hard. They’re both looking at Dunn right now.

Rob
Guest
Rob
6 years 26 days ago

Because Branyan is a uberhealth risk.

isavage
Guest
isavage
6 years 26 days ago

No. Branyan was blocking the Indians’ prospect Matt Laporta, who they needed to get a read on. Every Cleveland fan would have been fine with releasing Branyan, who despite the lies that UZR may tell you, was also pretty much awful at 1b and generally looked like he was barely trying. It was much more important to ditch Branyan asap than to acquire anything in return for him. The return is that Laporta plays 1b now. Acquiring an actual potentially useful something in exchange for Branyan is icing on the cake for the Indians.

Rick
Guest
6 years 26 days ago

I understood this as a move for 2011. A pair of fungible prospects for a bargain 1B/DH is cheaper than bidding for a guy of similar talents in FA.

Jason B
Guest
Jason B
6 years 26 days ago

I would agree with Pat – if JackZ saw Branyan as being worth about $2M for one year coming into ’10, why would he trade for him to execute a $5M one-year option for ’11?

Bill
Guest
Bill
6 years 26 days ago

One possibility that I can see is that now Branyan has established that ’09 was not a fluke and he is has now shown himself to be healthy, as well. This might be worth an extra 3 million.

CesarV
Member
CesarV
6 years 26 days ago

How about some baseball? How about giving a team that just played both Josh and Jack Wilson at the same time (Jack at first base, mind you) someone to bat in the middle of the lineup. Maybe give the pitchers the faintest of hopes for a win, keeping them motivated, upping their potential trade value. The M’s need bats, for today and for the future, the more they can get, the easier life will be during the off season.

max
Member
max
6 years 26 days ago

Josh was at first. Jack stayed at short.

Anyway, I am in favor of this move. Home runs are awesome. Russel the Mussel is one more reason for me to come out to Safeco and watch the 2010 Mariners. He could help us score a few more runs this year, and it doesn’t hurt to have the OPTION of picking him up for $5M in 2011. Add one more power bat, a mediocre veteran starting pitcher, and maybe Dustin Ackley and Wilson Ramos (to be acquired in the Lee trade) will be ready, and we’ll be set. Lopez and League could also be moved before the deadline to help us get ready for next year. But I would rather keep League around.

I’m excited for 2011. Then again, there’s no reason that we can’t string together a few more of those 6-game win streaks right? Make a ’95-esque pennant run, and then dominate the playoffs with Felix and Lee? Either way, we need to make the playoffs, and soon. The Giants fans that I go to school with are ruthless with their smack talk.

DonCoburleone
Guest
DonCoburleone
6 years 26 days ago

Good article, you’re right on… And just to add on to your point, imagine if this same scenario had played out in Kansas City or San Francisco. Every blogger and commenter on this site would be ripping Dayton Moore/Brian Sabean for continuing to destroy their respective franchises.

Paul
Guest
Paul
6 years 26 days ago

Exactly. How is this the slightest bit different than the Betancourt deal? Only that IMO Diaz is an actual prospect – love the swing from the video I’ve seen, but scouts obviously think he’s too big to stay at SS.

Dennis
Guest
Dennis
6 years 26 days ago

Anyone thinking of giving a job to that waste of space known as Gary Sheffield is just asking for trouble when you’re talking about bringing up young and impressionable prospects to learn how to play and more importantly how to Act as a Major League Baseball player and a Teammate. He comes across as egotistical and antagonistic. There is a reason he has played for so many teams in his career. He seems to lack the ability to get along with anybody. Yes, I am a Yankee’s fan, but his accusations against Joe Torre, who seemed to be respected by the rest of the team, come across as the disgruntled whining of a man who has serious anti-social problems. He is no role model for young players.

ms
Guest
ms
6 years 26 days ago

Is it really too naive to think that Z’s logic was that if he wasn’t going to make the team competitive this year, he could at least make the clubhouse more fun/team a little better for what will likely be a negligible cost? Is it really worth putting your team through the apparent misery of being around Sheff and Dukes because you don’t want to give up a possible reserve OF and a seemingly expendable minor league SS? Especially when there is no guarantee that those guys will produce at all, let alone make this a playoff team?

Garrett
Guest
Garrett
6 years 26 days ago

One thing I haven’t seen mentioned — if Branyan does decline the 5M option, does he stand a chance of being at least a Type B free agent? Wouldn’t a potential supplemental pick likely be of more value than Carerra and Diaz?

I have to think the option of having Branyan for 2011 (and one year) at 5M or that is somewhat inticing to Jack Z. Then again, I don’t know if Branyan’s two years worth of numbers in ’09-’10 would put him anywhere near compensation.

Choo
Member
6 years 26 days ago

“One thing I haven’t seen mentioned — if Branyan does decline the 5M option, . . .”

Nobody believes Branyan will make that mistake again.

jaremy
Guest
6 years 26 days ago

The reason Z got Branyan & not a FA is cost. And speaks to the point of an addition for revenue’s sake only. Branyan is free to them. And the theory is that he adds incrementally more wins and an actual threat to the lineup, which may improve ticket sales. Z knows they won’t make the playoffs, but the move improves the on-field product for $0.

Naliamegod
Guest
Naliamegod
6 years 26 days ago

Being in the top 15 in the Mariners system doesn’t really say much; if Carrera maxes out his potential he is a poor man’s Endy Chavez. The chances of him being any value to the Mariners for an extended period of time is slim at best. Juan Diaz is borderline minor league filler at this most.

JH
Guest
JH
6 years 26 days ago

I never understood why Sickels and Goldstein were as high on Carrera as they were.

Neither Carrera or Diaz have the upside to be even passable regulars. Diaz’s defensive reputation is a little bit exaggerated. He has ok tools and lateral range but he’s inconsistent in the middle infield. He’ll never be an average MLB shortstop defensively, and he probably won’t hit enough, either. If he makes it, it’s as a Willie Bloomquist-type reserve.

bookbook
Guest
bookbook
6 years 26 days ago

After the performance of Nick Johnson, Casey Kotchman, and a number of other “freely available talent” types this year, it’s reasonable for the M’s to conclude that there’s real value in a higher probability performer for the middle of their line up. Branyan ain’t perfect, but he may well be worth $5 million to the M’s for 2011. Best of all, he won’t be blocking the prospects, one of whom may well be ready by 2012.

Johnny
Guest
Johnny
6 years 26 days ago

Carrerra did great in West Tennessee, but was significantly less great in Tacoma. Sound like a future Quad-A player?
Diaz was mysteriously included in the Arizona Fall League as Triunfel was getting healthy. Sound like he was being exhibited as trade bait?

No, Branyan won’t put the Mariners in the playoffs, but he will help the Mariners play something that looks more like actual baseball.

The Mariners get a boost before alienating any more of their fan base, and there is only the slimmest of chances that either of the pieces they gave up would have actually proved much in the way of WAR themselves at any point in the future.
When you look at the cost, why not?

Marcelo Bottalico
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4 years 9 months ago

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