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Hot Stone League

Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

February 19, 2010 at 11:57 AM

Russ Branyan signs with Indians

branyan2.jpg

Word is coming from Buster Olney and others that free agent Russell Branyan has finally signed a contract — with Cleveland. Buster says it will be a one-year base for 2010 at $2 million, plus $1 million possible in incentives, plus a $5 million mutual option for 2011.

It’s hard not to wonder if Branyan could have gotten something similar, or even superior, from the Mariners a long, long time ago. I wrote back in early November how Branyan said he turned down the Mariners’ one-year offer, with an option for 2011, because he was looking for a multi-year deal. But there were serious reservations about the condition of his back around baseball, and a multi-year deal wasn’t forthcoming.

The Mariners, meanwhile, moved on, trading for Casey Kotchman and signing Ryan Garko, and now Branyan is taking his 31-homer bat back where he started his career, with the Indians. I remember how highly touted he was coming up through the minors. I once had an Indians’ official predict to me that this guy was going to be a superstar. He hit 40 homers in 482 at-bats in the minors in 1996, and 39 in 434 at-bats in ’97. It never happened, for a variety of reasons, but after last year, Branyan thought he had finally reached the point of his journeyman’s career, at age 34, where he could get a little job security with a multi-year deal. Here’s his quote in that Nov. 10 story:

“I’ve said all along I would like more than a one-year deal. I would like to try to find some sort of security. I played my whole career under a one-year contract. I feel like I’m in position now I can be a little larger part of a ball team and factor into bringing a championship to Seattle.”

It appears, however that this is a classic example of a guy overplaying his hand. ESPN’s reported that at one point, Branyan was seeking three years and $20 million. In the end, it came down to Tampa Bay and Cleveland, presumably both with one-year offers plus a 2011 option — what the Mariners were talking back in November. He choose the Indians, where he’ll provide insurance and depth as rookie Matt LaPorta tries to come back from a couple of surgeries.

I enjoyed covering Branyan and hope that he gets the security he seeks. If he has a solid year, I could see that mutual option perhaps becoming reality. A little while ago, FOX’s Ken Rosenthal talked to Vanderbilt baseball coach Tim Corbin, who watched Branyan work out this winter at Vandy in his hometown of Nashville. Wrote Rosenthal:

The big truck tires are propped up against a wall in the Vanderbilt University weight room. Russell Branyan pounds them with sledgehammers, the way a lumberjack chops wood.

“It’s a difficult exercise,” Vanderbilt baseball coach Tim Corbin says. “He couldn’t do it if he had the back injury that people say he has.”

That is the rap against Branyan in free agency — that he is still hampered by a back problem that sidelined him with the Mariners for a month late last season.

Corbin, who has been present while Branyan has worked out with fellow major leaguers Dan Uggla and Khalil Greene at Vanderbilt, doesn’t buy it.

“I see him every day in the weight room, doing all this core work,”

Corbin says. “I don’t know what the situation was with Seattle, but he looks good to me. He’s hitting every day with Uggla and Khalil. I don’t see anything wrong.”

I guess we’ll all eventually find out just how bad off Branyan’s back is, and if the Mariners made a mistake in not bringing him back.

(Photo by Associated Press)

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