After a physical today, Russell Branyan is set to join the Tribe in Goodyear, Arizona this week for his 4th stint with the organization. The 34 year old first baseman has reached a one year agreement with the Indians worth up to $3 million ($2 million base + incentives) with a mutual team/player option for 2011 worth $5 million. Branyan will bring some much needed power to a tribe lineup that in the bottom half of the league in homeruns (10th) and overall slugging (8th).
There are a few reasons why Branyan fits in nicely with the Indians: First off, there are glaring uncertainties with the power hitters in Cleveland’s lineup. Grady Sizemore is coming of an injury plagued season where he hit 18 homers while OPSing .788 in 503 plate appearances (all three career lows). Another Tribe slugger, Travis Hafner, hasn’t been the old Pronk since he signed a contract extension during the 2007 season. Secondly, Branyan offers insurance for Hafner and first baseman of the future Matt LaPorta who is coming of hip and toe surgery this winter. Branyan can also act as a buffer for someone such as Michael Brantley who may benefit from a little more time down in Columbus. Finally, Branyan is coming off of his best season as a major leaguer and he brings power to the first base position that has not been seen in Cleveland since Jim Thome left in following the 2002 season. The Tribe offense suffered through injuries to both Grady Sizemore and Travis Hafner in 2009. Hafner entered the 2009 season as a question mark coming off of shoulder surgery that shortened his 2008 season. His ’09 numbers were more in line with his career numbers than in ’08, but he was still limited to only 94 games and 383 plate appearances while hitting 16 HR’s and OPSing .836. Sizemore was shut down in early September to have two surgeries and played through pain for most of the season; which no doubt contributed to the lowest offensive output of his career. Cleveland looks for both of these guys to come back healthy in 2010 and contribute, but it is unlikely that Hafner will return to the player who hit 42 homeruns and OPS’d and amazing 1.097 in 2006. In fact, Bill James predicts Hafner to replicate 2009: 16 HR’s, .880 OPS. The outlook on Sizemore is more favorable. But even if Grady lives up to projections (25 HR’s), the Tribe could still use a legitimate power hitter to shore up the middle of a lineup in which Shin-Soo Choo lead with only 20 homeruns. Enter Russell Branyan, whose 31 homeruns in 2009 were a career high and were good for 11th in the American League.