Russell Branyan: Born for the Rays

As the league prepares for Spring Training, there remain a few players left unsigned, left searching for teams as we celebrate Truck Days and Pitchers and Catchers Report Days. I can only imagine how depressing it is for these players – just picture a player sitting at home, baseball glove in hand, cap on head, watching with a frown on his face as all his friends depart for the warmth and promise of Arizona and Florida. Well, for one player, I have a solution. Russell Branyan, you were born to play for the Tampa Bay Rays.

Although Branyan’s stock has cooled considerably since he first burst on to the scene (at least for those outside the sabermetric community, which always loved his righty-mashing ways), he still has something left to give. Over the last two seasons, Branyan has slugged 56 homers, compiling a 125 wRC+ and 4.9 WAR. Marcel projects a line of .239/.324/.470, ZiPS projects .235/.330/.480, and CAIRO, most optimistically, foresees a .246/.339/.494 line. No matter who you ask, they’ll tell you one thing about Branyan: he’s got power. Even though he can only play 1B and DH, that power is enough to warrant a Major League contract worth multiple millions of dollars- he just needs a team.

Yes, the Tampa Bay Rays already have a first baseman in Dan Johnson and a designated hitter in Manny Ramirez, but is that reason enough for them to shun Branyan? Hardly. Although a platoon between Johnson and Branyan isn’t really plausible – both are left-handed – the Rays would be well served to have an experienced Plan B for Johnson. Casey Kotchman is currently on the roster, but his time with the Seattle Mariners showed that he isn’t contributing anything anytime soon. Also, it clearly wouldn’t hurt to have a backup plan for Manny, who, even ignoring his penchant to go off-the-rails, is 39 next season and likely a) an injury risk and b) would require some rest days. The Rays pretty clearly have 300 or so plate appearances to offer The Muscle, and potentially more.

Listening to the first few broadcasts from Spring Training and hearing the Tim Kurkjians of the world declare that “the Rays have taken a major step back” gives a sense of gloom, doom, and definite third place (or worse!) for the team from the Trop. Although it is true that the team has taken a step back, it’s not so much that they won’t be competing in 2011. The first PECOTAs have the Rays within seven games of the Yankees – a wide gap, but one that wouldn’t be insurmountable with two potential extra wins from Branyan. The newest CAIROs have an even smaller gap – only four games – a gap that the Rays could easily clear with a few breaks, and becomes even closer with Branyan’s help.

So, yes, Tampa, even though many of your plans are made and bags are packed, try and find room for one more in your Spring Training complex. You know how sad and lonely it must be for Russell to wait at home and watch his friends practicing in the inviting Florida sun. Just give him a call and let him play too!

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25 Responses to “Russell Branyan: Born for the Rays”

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  1. Yes please! I had similar thoughts in November

    I thought the addition of Kotchman on the minor league deal blocked this from happening, but the fact Branyan is still out there at this late date (didn’t sign until 2/19 last season) again tells me he’d only cost $1.5M to add and last year, he chose Cleveland over TB due to the promise of more PT.

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  2. ttnorm says:

    Doesn’t Branyan’s back injuries relegate him to an MiLB deal or retirement?

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    • joser says:

      That’s what they said in 2008, and 2009, and 2010…. At some point, it’ll be true, but until it actually happens, some team is going to be willing to roll the dice.

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  3. Dudley says:

    interesting. do you think oakland, with their total lack of power, might be a decent fit, too?

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  4. Sandy Kazmir says:

    He was born to play for the Rays. In 2006 when he got 193 PA good for a slash of .201/.286/.473 He had 12 homers and 12 singles, struck on 62 times and walked 19. No thanks. Wow and I forgot he played RF then. We used to stink.

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    • I can’t believe Maddon gave him 46 PA’s vs LHP that season. .220/.304/.537 — he had more strikeouts (21) than he did H+BB (12). Meanwhile, .230/.332/.490 vs RHP.

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  5. BillPetti says:

    Agreed. He’s a likely .340-.350 wOBA guy in 2011 whose K% and BABIP is very steady–so you get what you see.

    Plus, he’ll be cheap. Last year he produced 59.1 runs at a cost of $25.3K per run. That was 22nd for guys producing between 50 and 60 runs and 9th for players in the league 10+ years.

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  6. grandbranyan says:

    Manny/Branyan would certainly be the best DH combo of all time.


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  7. Dynamo says:

    His wife Katy Perry is hot.

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  8. I have been making it widely known that the Rays need to make a move on Branyan. Over the past 3 years 68 bombs, OPS+ of 130, and +4.7 UZR in 1474.2 innings at first base.

    Also, why can’t he platoon with Johnson? Johnson’s platoon splits are almost identical. Johnson has a few more points in OBP and less power against LHP.

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    • Hosni Mubarak says:

      Who are you? And how are you able to make things widely known? I am intrigued by this ability and would like to take advantage of it.

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  9. DonCoburleone says:

    The Ray’s are probably at their preseason budget limit. I guarantee you Friedman has a couple million he can play with during the season and he probably doesn’t want to commit that money now and have no flexibility going forward.. $1.5MM is alot to the Rays don’t forget that.

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  10. boxx says:

    The the thing I can’t understand is why a guy w/ a 130 ops+ over the last 3 years who’s also a plus-defender has such a hard time finding a job. Is it biases amongst baseball tradionalist who judge him based on his low batting average and high K totals? I see around 10 teams that start a guy at 1B who are either young and uproven (freddie freeman, brett wallace, Smoak, LaPorta, Moreland, ect.) or Vets without particularly high ceilings (dan johnson, juan miranda, Overbay). A potential 2+ win player is valued at $10 mil yet he figures to get a fraction of that. What am I missing?

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    • grandbranyan says:

      I’d say it’s a combination of the bias against low BA/high K guys and Branyan’s inability to stay healthy for a full season.

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    • Sandy Kazmir says:

      The steel rod where his spine used to be makes it hard to want to commit to him.

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  11. Me says:

    I’ve been confused about how teams go about determining value in the DH-type player for the past couple of years. I think teams are getting absurd deals, like signing ManRam for $2M this year, Vlad for 5(ish?) last year. Jermaine Dye couldn’t get a major league contract after hitting an average of 30 HR per year over the previous 3 years. If memory serves he was offered minor league deals and offers to DH on a 1.5M deal. Since when is hitting 30 HR with a .250-.275 avg with a decent (not great) K/BB ratio worth only 1.5M at DH? Or Manny’s .400+ obp worth 2M? Even if he hits 15 HR all year, is that not worth 6-7M? I don’t know, maybe I’m wrong, but it seems like the teams are really getting over with these ridiculously small contracts given out to still-productive hitters. Please help with this. Are these guys getting the shaft, or are they being paid accordingly?

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    • Kampfer says:

      it is just supply and demand

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      • Me says:

        Agreed on that front. Just seems to me that many of the DH’s, not last year, but for several years before that, were very lackluster. That assessment is purely subjective, based on my impression, not any kind of statistical measure, but I’m just too lazy to do the research right now. At any rate. I suppose that if you have 14 AL teams, and most of them are set at DH, I could see how teams could set the market.

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    • kick me in the GO NATS says:

      Almost every major league team has somebody playing in AAA who could hit .250- .260 with 25 home runs and a .310 on base percentage given 600 at bats in the majors. Why pay a guy many many millions more for a .275 BA, .330 OB% and 5-10 more home runs per 600 ABs but with an injury risk history? Your not adding allot of value for your money. Now if your a sure thing contender then maybe that little bit of extra bit of offense can put you over the top. But not many sure thing contenders in the AL enter an off season with DH as a question mark. So the guys with .275 BAs and 25- 30 home run histories with age and injury risks have to take somewhat less from non contenders if they are stuck at DH. plus, there are only 14 teams that DH and every off season 4 or 5 guys seem to fit that profile, so the supply is fairly large considering the demand.

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  12. Bob R. says:

    I am not sure how Branyan fits on the Rays (unless it is purely as a minor league deal who starts the year at Durham in case he is needed later). Assuming the Rays go with 12 pitchers (5 starters, 7 relievers) that leaves 13 spots. If they are prepared to begin the year with Dan Johnson, and I think they are, that means 11 are taken. (Jason, Shoppach, D. Johnson, Zobrist, Sean Rodriguez, Longoria, Brignac, Damon, Upton, Joyce, Manny.)

    My guess is that the Rays want one middle infield reserve (E. Johnson or Lopez) and one outfield reserve (Fuld). I suppose they could replace one of them with a power hitter off the bench as a number of the regulars are versatile, but doing that limits Maddon’s options some as Branyan is either a first baseman or DH and nothing else. Manny will not be platooned, so Branyan has to be on the bench with no other use.

    I just don’t see who Branyan could replace on the major league roster.

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  13. boxx says:

    Rod in his back or not $1.5 mil is chump change for 3 quarters of the league. I understand not comitting long term, but my original point was that this will be two straight years that the guy has to wait til pitchers & catchers just to latch on somewhere and it doesn’t make sense. I also disagree that this is a simple supply vs. demand issue. This a guy with mammoth power. He’s like adam dunn or mark reynolds in that when he connects, there isn’t a stadium on the planet that it won’t go out of. Forget his statistical line, guys like that aren’t a dime a dozen..i A team like San Diego or Detroit, who play in cavernous parks, should be all over this guy considering there is so little financial risk involved

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    • joser says:

      Platoon-only 1B/DH with a scary injury history just aren’t something teams covet in the offseason. That’s something you add late, when your roster’s mostly set and you discover you don’t already have someone in camp who can assume that role (hopefully without the injury history part).

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