The theory behind the Branyan trade – acquiring wins in a down season at a low cost in order to further development and, more importantly, increase revenues – appears solid. What it really depends on is if the Mariners’ evaluation of the prospects involved is correct. If, as the Mariners seem to think, Carrera and Diaz are nothing more than organizational depth, the trade is absolutely the right move, as the wins this season very well could increase potential payroll in seasons to come, and typically, that will mean more wins as well. If it turns out that one of these two prospects is a legitimate Major League talent, then trading that future value for a gain in this lost season is the incorrect move.
Good stuff, and I am not one to doubt the scouting skills of Jack Z and his great staff in Seattle. However, this one is certainly a head scratcher, and after thinking on it, I just can’t find myself in favor of this deal.
I understand the concept of wanting to create an atmosphere of winning, especially for young players and a passionate fan base, even if it means a marginal sacrifice. However, while Branyan could certainly be worth 2.0 WAR for the Mariners going forward, he might stink. He may be worth -1.0 WAR, hitting terribly and playing bad defense. Now I’m not saying that it’s likely, but certainly possible.
The difference, however, is that Branyan’s contribution to the 2010 Mariners, whether it be -3 or 3 wins, will not be the tipping point in their playoff hopes. Their season is pretty much over in terms of playoff competition, so his actual on-field contribution is pretty irrelevant. While the players Seattle gave up weren’t exactly blue chip prospects, their potential value is one that could be of service to the Mariners much more so than Branyan’s current value.
Ezequiel Carrera was ranked as the Mariners’ 12th-best Prospect by John Sickels this past off season, with Sickels writing that Carrera is a, “Speed demon, hits for average, draws walks, good glove, no power, future reserve outfielder but a useful one.” That certainly isn’t an outright endorsement, but Carrera has the potential to give the Mariners something in the long term. With similar comments, Kevin Goldstein at Baseball Prospectus rated him 14th in the M’s system. He’s currently hitting .268/.339/.315 in Triple-A as a 23-year-old, nothing too shabby. Baseball America rated him as the Fastest Baserunner in the M’s system, as well as having the Best Strike Zone Discipline. If he plays a solid defense like Sickels said, he could bring some value.
The Mariners also gave up SS Juan Diaz, who was hitting .295/.345/.433 in High-A ball. It’s an offensive-heavy league, no doubt, but at 21 years old, it’s tough to be too down on those numbers. If you don’t believe he can hit, put him in Double-A and ask him to sink or swim.
These two prospects are no lock to ever see a Major League clubhouse outside of Spring Training, but they still have potential for decent upsides, or at least to be used as trading chips when the Mariners are more competitive in (hopefully, for Dave Cameron’s sake) the near future.
I know this may seem cliche, and almost unfair, but I need to see something more quantifiable than “creating a winning atmosphere” as a reason for trading for Branyan. Branyan could destroy the baseball, and he could be terrible, with the greater likelihood somewhere in between. Still, as said earlier, his production won’t mean much tangibly.
Why else don’t I like this deal? Because there are other, cheaper options available. I wrote about one of them in early May, saying that with “nobody else carrying the load, Jack Z should give Gary Sheffield a chance.” Look, if you want to argue about whether or not Sheffield will hit at Safeco, fine. But the larger point still remains: there are free agents out there that can be had, for cheap, that could put up similar numbers to Branyan (i.e. Elijah Dukes). Even if Sheffield or Dukes would only put up 1 WAR, whereas Branyan puts up 3, is the difference that significant to give up two prospects and spend more money?
If Jack Z goes ahead and spins Branyan as a larger package involving Cliff Lee, I’ll take back every word I said. I don’t think this deal is a terrible one, but just one I don’t see very much reason to make if I’m the Mariners.
Pat Andriola is an Analyst at Bloomberg Sports who formerly worked in Major League Baseball's Labor Relations Department. You can contact him at Patrick.Andriola@tufts.edu or follow him on Twitter @tuftspat