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!