First Baseman Russell Branyan Signed by Indians

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First Baseman Russell Branyan Signed by Indians
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

 

The Indians and Russell Branyan agreed to a one-year deal on Friday morning, joining Cleveland to add stability at first base and left field.
Branyan had been mulling over offers from the Indians and Rays the past week, before accepting a one-year deal worth $2 million (plus $1 million in incentives) in 2010, with a $5 million mutual option for 2011.
Branyan hit .251 with 31 homers in just 431 at-bats for Seattle in 2009, as his season was cut short with a bad back. Durability concerns allowed the Indians to take a low-risk, high-reward approach with Branyan, who started his major league career with Cleveland in 1998.
Barring an exceptional spring from Andy Marte, this move likely pushes him down to AAA to open the season.
Even though the Indians are in need of a right-handed bat, the left-handed Branyan could form a platoon with Matt LaPorta, and hit in the DH spot if Travis Hafner falters or needs rest.
While he's never figured out left-handed pitching, Branyan crushes righties, hitting 21 of his 31 bombs off of lefties while posting a .905 OPS (over 100 points higher than against right-handed pitching).
Branyan will most likely open the season at first base as Matt LaPorta recovers from left hip and left toe surgeries.
Speedster Michael Brantley has the inside track to the everyday left field job, but could lose at-bats to Branyan if Brantley has a poor spring.
This signing also all but buries Shelley Duncan to AAA as strictly an insurance policy.
The proposed bench now consists of catcher Mike Redmond, Russell Branyan, a utility infielder (Mark Grudzielanek, prospect Jason Donald, or Brian Bixler) and a fourth outfielder (Trevor Crowe, Austin Kearns, Shelley Duncan, or Jordan Brown).

Analysis
This is a nice bargain signing that almost assuredly won't proceed to next season. I'm not a big fan of it, as Branyan is without a doubt the best suitor for the position, but will render this season useless for Andy Marte (even though he's been given every opportunity to succeed, this would have been his final make-or-break season). And, quite frankly, Cleveland is not going anywhere in 2010.
This is also a spot which Jordan Brown would have fit nicely in. Brown is a lefty, of which the Indians have plenty of, but won the International League battle title and has nothing left to prove in the minors.
Brown, 26, hit .336 with a .913 OPS, 15 homers and 35 doubles last season in Columbus. The Indians have plans to primarily play him at LF, but with Sizemore, Brantley, and Choo all having the inside track to the everyday OF jobs for several years, Brown's path to the Majors is blocked.
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