Note: I initially listed Branyan’s 2009 salary as $4 million. That’s a mistake. His base salary was actually $1.4 million this year, with incentives that pushed it to $1.75 million. Sorry for the error.
Russ Branyan, who has been out since Aug. 28 with a back injury, said today that he is feeling much better and aiming to play again this season. Branyan set the Blue Jays series in Toronto, Sept. 24-27, as his target return date.
“My goal is to get back on the field with the team because I started the season with the ballclub as a starting player, and I want to finish that way,” he said.
But the more significant nugget, long-term, was Branyan’s reiteration today of his desire to return to the Mariners next year.
“I can’t ask for anything more than to come back here,” He said. “From Jack Zduriencik to Don Wakamatsu to the coaching staff to my teammates to the clubhouse staff to the grounds crew to everyone, I haven’t been treated better in my career, I haven’t met better people. The fans here, the city…but obviously it’s going to be up to them whether they want to bring me back here or not. I’d love to come back here, I enjoy playing in this ballpark, I enjoyed getting to play on an every-day basis this year. I’d be excited to entertain the option to come back here next year.”
Branyan, of course, will be a free agent after the season. He figures to get attention from other teams as a left-handed slugger after hitting .251 with 31 homers and 76 RBIs in 116 games. But in a perverse way, his ongoing back issues might help steer Branyan back to the Mariners by making teams gunshy about his long-term durability. It seems to me like this marriage was such a good fit that the two sides will be able to work something out. Branyan may never have a better shot at a big payday (he played this year at $1.75 million, inlcuding incentives (a bargain in baseball terms), but I believe he also feels some definite loyalty to the Mariners for giving him a chance to play every day. And he’s happy here. Smart players stay where they’re happy.
Branyan, who is 33, joked that he would seek a contract that takes him to age 50.
“When I can’t play anymore, I’ll just work under Jack,” he said.
The opportunity to play every day again will be a huge factor for Branyan in choosing a team.
“What would you do? Would you want to go back to sitting on the bench?” he asked rhetorically. “No. I think this year was a building block for me. My reps, my stamina, everything, I think I’ll build off it. Next year, as long as I get a chance to play every day, I think it’s up from here.
Wakamatsu said that there’s even a possibility Branyan will be ready to play during the Tampa Bay series prior to Toronto.
“I still think he’s going to be able to finish the year out playing,” he said. “We just don’t how much time it will be. He’s doing a lot of stuff in the pool right now. He still feels it a little bit.”
Added Wakamatwsu, “He’s had a career year, and I think it would be kind of nice for him to be part of the finale of this. I know it was bothering him tremendously not to go on this last road trip and be a part of helping us win.”
How badly was it bothering Branyan?
“Any time you spend time away from the game, away from the team, it sucks,” he said. “It sucks sitting here, it sucks not being able to go on the road trip. The worst you can do in the game of baseball is strike out four times in a game and make three errors. I’d much rather do that than sit in the house on the disabled list.”
Here’s some more from Wakamatsu on Branyan:
“You look at some of these guys, like Gutierrez and Russell to both play a full year, you have to go through a full year to understand the stress on your body. They both will be better for it. I think Russell learned a lot this year. Obviousy he had career high in home runs and I thought he made tremendous improvement at first base, a lot more than we initially thought. We wondered how good he would be over there, I think he ended up being pretty solid.
“The big question will be whether his body can do it for a full year. But the numbers, his play, I think more than proves that he’s able to be a legitimate force at first base.”
As for the prospects of Branyan staying healthy next year, Wakamatsu said, “That’s something that Jack and his agent will have to deal with. It would be nice to get him back on the field to show that it’s just a setback and not something that will bother him in the future.”