After wondering where saber-sweetheart Russell Branyan would play this upcoming season, we now know he will be joining the fangraphs crew in Arizona – not literally, but close. In an offseason where Mark Kotsay signed a major-league deal, Branyan and his .350 wOBA of a season ago will join the Diamondbacks on a minor-league deal with an invite to spring training…really.
Branyan has been a hot topic around these parts with two articles yesterday looking at possible destinations for the muscle. As a Rays’ fan I agreed with Jack Moore that he was born for the Rays – or at least a better backup plan than Casey Kotchman. My AL East Rival, Joe Pawlikowski suggested the right-handed heavy Blue Jays would be a good fit as well.
Playing first base on a regular basis is probably not a great fit for the fragile Branyan; however, he and Chase Field are a perfect match. According to Statcorner’s park factors Chase Field is a left-handed hitter’s dream with abov- average marks in every extra-base category. Despite turning 35 this past December, Branyan continues to post excellent power numbers, hitting 56 home runs in the past two seasons with an ISO around .260.
On the other hand, Arizona’s on-field situation may not be an ideal match. In addition to Branyan, the Diamondbacks have several options at first base including Brandon Allen and a pair of former Yankees in Xavier Nady and Juan Miranda. As Jonah Keri explained Allen comes with the most upside while Nady and Miranda are better served in as bench options. If the team had to choose between Allen and Branyan, Allen would be the better choice; however, his ability to roam left field would allow room for both sluggers in the lineup on most days.
The one knock on Branyan is health and it is a rather big knock. Between platoon duty and back injuries, he has topped 100 games just four times in his career. In fact, his career-high of 134 came way back in 2002. As he ages, the injury concerns only intensify. Meanwhile, he has played in 225 games over the past two years and racked up over 900 plate appearances. Surprisingly, Branyan might not be as bad as one would think as a defender. He’s earned positive UZR’s over the past two years in nearly 1,500 innings of sample size.
There is a non-zero chance Branyan’s back is completely toast. That said, at the low cost of a non-roster invite it is worth finding out. While we don’t know exact figures yet, one would guess the guaranteed salary isn’t extravagant and any incentives will probably be based on plate appearances. If that is the case, and he stays on the field long enough, he should provide plenty of power in the middle Diamondbacks’ lineup at a bargain price even if he doesn’t fill an immediate need.
In the meantime, Mark Kotsay really did get a major league deal.