The Mariners have yet to officially activate Russell Branyan, since his plane isn’t scheduled to touch down here in Milwaukee until about 10 a.m. Pacific time. After that, he’ll try to make it to the ballpark, which is a good 15 minutes away, before lineup cards are exchanged. If he can do that, then Mike Carp will be optioned to Class AAA.
If not, Carp gets one more game with the club. Branyan won’t be in the starting lineup if he makes it on time, but would be available to pinch-hit.
David Pauley was called up from Class AAA and will be the long man in the bullpen if needed today. To clear a roster spot, Mike Sweeney was placed on the 15-day DL with back spasms. Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu told us that the injury is not as serious as Sweeney’s prior back woes and that he won’t need to see a specialist again.
The team just needed the roster room.
Once Sweeney is ready to come back, he likely won’t have to play the field ever again. That’s because Branyan is now the everyday first baseman.
We spoke to Jack Zduriencik again this morning. You saw our interview with him in last night’s blog. Today, he clarified some of what’s been out there in the blogosphere regarding who picks up what salary-wise.
The team is on-the-hook for the pro-rated portion of Branyan’s remaining salary for this year, which is just over $1 million. As for his $1 million in bonuses and incentives, the Indians will pick up part of that, but Zduriencik would not get into specifics as to how that will be worked out.
What is clear, from talking to various Mariners officials, is that a big part of making this trade was seeing how the lineup responds as they move forward. With so many bats struggling below their career norms, Zduriencik and Wakamatsu seem to have arrived at the conclusion that a power bat (or two, or three) is the key missing ingredient that has made this offense so poor.
And , when you are trying to evaluate a club moving forward, it makes some sense, if it can be done at minimal cost, to add part of that ingredient to see if anything changes.
That way, you know whether you have to make wholesale changes to your overall plan next season — if, say, you conclude that Milton Bradley and Chone Figgins might be regressing long-term, or that Jose Lopez is done as a hitter, or Franklin Gutierrez will never be a power threat — or simply tweak things a bit.
You also, as Zduriencik said last night, have to let your players know the front office has not abandonned them. A lot of these players have to be thinking “I wouldn’t have struggled like this if the team had put some real power in the lineup to begin with.”
Now, they are running out of excuses. They’ve got a big bat.
“I don’t think it’s a secret that we’ve been pursuing a big bat,” Zduriencik said. “What happened was, we’ve had conversations going on for a while now. Talked to a lot of people about a lot of different scenarios. And this is the one that finally materialized…I think it gives you a legitimate threat in our lineup and I thought it was important for us to do this at this time.”
As far as evaluating the team, moving forward, he added:
“I think when you go through some of the early struggles, no one knows why,” Zduriencik said. “There are a lot of reasons why things happen. But we’ve seen some glimpses of us playing pretty good baseball here the past 10 days. Obviously, the pitching has been very good. So, to bring a guy like Russell in, does it help everybody else in the lineup? You hope so. This is not the end-all, be-all. And it’s not a cure-all by any means. But it is an element that I think we needed. We were able to do this at this time. Does it help the other players in the lineup? I certainly hope so. But his presence is, I think, going to be a factor.”
Wakamatsu also feels the presence of a big bat will help some of the players who have underperformed.
“I think a lot,” he said. “I just think that it puts a lot of pressure on guys when, I think, the only legitimate threat from last year is (Jose) Lopez because of the 25 (homers). But even then, I think, if you look at Lopey, he’s a guy who came out this year trying to be a 30, or 35 home run guy. Same thing with Guti. Having put Guti in the three-hole maybe before his time. It puts some extra pressure. So, that’s exactly what Jack (Zduriencik) is looking for. Trying to put somebody in there who can take some pressure off these guys.”
Wakamatsu later added Bradley’s name to the list of guys who could benefit from having a true power bat in the lineup.
When everyone was done talking, I asked Zduriencik afterwards about the whole big-bat theory and whether anyone working for him ad come up with a scenario where this offense could thrive and score between 750 and 800 runs without a true power source. He replied that no, that had not been the case. His front office has been seeking a power bat since the winter but was unable to come up with one. At that point, he added, he knew the offense would probably be a bit short once the season began. He’d hoped that strong pitching and defense could offset it, but that turned out not to be the case.
Once the season had started, however, finding that missing power was going to be tough.
Again, this goes back to the budget decisions that were made by the team last November. The M’s cut payroll from $99 million on opening day of 2009 down to about $93.5 million this year.
In reality, though certainly not hindsight because too many people were pointing this out months ago, the team probably needed to take payroll up slightly if it truly wanted to contend in 2010. That might have given them at least $10 million more to spend — enough for one big bat and maybe even two if they’d gotten creative.
Now, the team has to live with those budget decisions.
How is Branyan being paid for now? Well, the team does set aside money for contingencies and having the offense drop off the table less than halfway through a season certainly constitutes one. Also, Erik Bedard,who threw four innings last night and should be starting here in early July, did not make it back from the DL by May as some had first envisioned.
That means Bedard will likely earn a little less in incentives than he could have initially. That alone could pay for Branyan’s salary.
Bedard is to throw a bullpen session Monday, then start for Class AAA Tacoma on Thursday. Wakamatsu said the reports of his outing last night were highly encouraging.
“The thing we’re looking at is, 14 out of his 15 curveballs were for strikes yesterday,” Wakamatsu said. “He didn’t have command of that before.”
David Aardsma’s wife gave birth to a 7.8-pound, 19-inches-long baby boy last night. Aardsma isn’t due back with the team until Tuesday. For today, you’ve got Garrett Olson limited to situational duty. Pauley is the long guy. Brandon League will be allowed to close, because of the off-day tomorrow. Ryan Rowland-Smith can go one inning if the game goes to extras. Everyone else is a go.
The rotation for this coming week, starting Tuesday, will be Cliff Lee, Felix Hernandez, Rowland-Smith, Doug Fister and Jason Vargas — the latter two getting an extra day’s rest.