Russell Branyan Signing: A Bargain of Confusion for the Cleveland Indians

Nino Colla@TheTribeDailySenior Writer IFebruary 20, 2010

OAKLAND, CA - MAY 27: Russell Branyan #30 of the Seattle Mariners crosses home plate after hitting a two run home run in the sixth inning of their game against the Oakland Athletics at the Oakland Coliseum on May 27, 2009 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

For the first time that I can remember in the Mark Shapiro-era of the Cleveland Indians, the team might have actually made a sound free agent signing that didn't involve the term "low-risk."

Granted, the reported deal that Russell Branyan has accepted is a one-year deal worth $2 million dollars, this isn't a typical garbage heap signing Shapiro has pulled off in the past.

This is more along the lines of Kerry Wood, David Dellucci, and Roberto Hernandez being signed to major league deals. This is a player expected to come in and earn his salary, even if it is at a bargain.

A year ago, this deal would have been brilliant.

It would have been perfect timing, it would have filled a need, and it would have made a whole lot of sense.

In 2010, it makes absolutely none.

However, because of the low-price tag that the Tribe is paying to acquire Branyan's slugging services, I supposed I can't quarrel too much.

Who am I kidding? How does this make the least bit of sense?

You've got a team that acquired a highly-touted prospect by the name of Matt LaPorta and, as recently as the end of last year, committed to making him a primary first baseman.

You've got a team that has $11.5 million dollars invested in their designated hitter, Travis Hafner and, the last time I checked, he's pretty much untradeable at this point.

And finally, you've got a team that already has a unstable defensive presence at third base by the name of Jhonny Peralta, who already strikes out plenty of times in one season.

So, can anyone tell me where the at-bats are going to come from?

Yeah, he can play a little bit of corner outfield, backup at third and designated hitter, and spend the majority of time at first base.

But why?

The youth movement is underway in Cleveland and the signing of Branyan is just impeding that process.

I admired the club's stance on not signing any free agents that would block any young player from getting a shot.

Everyone else might not have, but I did.

Signing Branyan pretty much ruins it.

The Indians are expected to be on the low-end of the AL Central in terms of starting payroll and pretty young in terms of age. Some fans even believe a 100-loss year is in the works and that the Indians don't stand a chance at competing for the division.

I personally don't think that either is the case, but that doesn't mean I'd go out and add a piece that is more geared toward contending than developing.

You will not find any bigger proponent of having multiple veteran presences on the roster than myself, especially for a team that is expected to be as young as Cleveland will be.

However, I felt the addition of Mike Redmond and the likelihood of Mark Grudzielanek being the backup infielder was more than sufficient to fill that need.

Not only do they come cheap, but they fill the needs of this team. The Tribe has options that don't include handing Branyan $2 million to be a glorified backup.

Andy Marte could capably handle the role of backup corner infielder. Shelley Duncan would be plenty of insurance at first base if LaPorta isn't ready for opening day or isn't 100 percent. Austin Kearns is another veteran that could very well win the fourth outfield spot.

Part of me thinks this is the front office's way of displaying a whole bunch of frustration from free agent failures of years past, as well as not being able to take advantage of the current economic situation in baseball.

Veterans are going for cheap, regardless of last year's production. Cleveland made a strong effort to land Orlando Hudson in a two-year deal that was back loaded for 2011. Could you blame Shapiro and company for wanting to add a former All-Star for an extremely cheap price tag?

I can't blame him for wanting to sign Branyan. It makes too much sense for a team to go out, especially one that can't spend a lot like Cleveland, and nab a player who can slug 30 home runs at a cheap price tag.

The problem is, Cleveland isn't in a position to give Branyan the opportunity to hit 30 home runs again.

And that brings me to the biggest point in all of this.

Who really cares if Matt LaPorta isn't totally ready to be the first baseman? Even if you decide to use him as a trading chip near the deadline, is it worth the few months of toying with LaPorta?

A few months ago, this team was all gun-ho about LaPorta being their man from the start, provided he was healthy enough. That was before LaPorta was even cleared to resume baseball activities.

Now all of a sudden there are some concerns?

I don't buy it for one second. He needs to prove himself, and the only way to do that is to throw him out there and let him do it. He's shown last year he can hit major league pitching and, at every level of the minor leagues, he's adapted and become his team's best hitter.

Let him learn first base at the major leagues, with major league coaching and against major league situations.

You don't have to worry about potentially overexposing someone like LaPorta, who spent plenty of time at college and has never shown any signs of being progressed too fast. Every jump he's made has been well-earned.

It will be a downright travesty if LaPorta ends up sharing time at first base with Russell Branyan, when he's healthy enough to do it all by himself.

Mark Shapiro might have finally caught on to this free agent business; it's a shame that the free agent he added could turn out to be his most cunning, yet most foolish, signing of his tenure running the Indians.


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