Mariners bring Branyan back to the fold
Slugger led team in homers in '09; Indians receive two prospects
CINCINNATI -- Russell Branyan is headed back to familiar territory in Seattle, and the Indians have cleared room for Matt LaPorta to return to the big leagues and play every day at first base.Branyan was informed after Saturday's loss to the Reds that he has been traded to his old club. The Indians will receive two Minor Leaguers, Triple-A center fielder Ezequiel Carrera and Class A Advanced shortstop Juan Diaz. They will also either fund the buyout of Branyan's $5 million mutual option for 2011, if the Mariners choose not to exercise it, or send the Mariners a player to be named later.
"It's no secret that we've been pursuing a bat for some time," Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik said. "The opportunity to consummate a deal presented itself today. In Russell, we have added a bat that can help bolster our offense. With three-plus months to play we want to give our team every opportunity to be as productive as possible this season, while not harming the long-term plan for the franchise.This is the first of what could be multiple deals done by the Tribe before the Trade Deadline, as the already young Indians get younger and try to rid themselves of some veterans in the final year of their contracts. The Mariners' motives are much less clear, as they are 31-43, 14 games back in the American League West. The Mariners opted not to re-sign Branyan after he hit a career-high 31 homers and drove in 76 runs in 116 games last year, and the Indians opted to add him to a rebuilding ballclub. During Spring Training, the Tribe signed Branyan to a one-year deal with a mutual option for 2011. It was his fourth stint with the organization that first drafted him in 1994. The 34-year-old Branyan, in the midst of a seven-game hitting streak, is batting .263 with 10 homers, nine doubles, 24 RBIs and an .819 OPS in 52 games this season. He's made five errors in the field at first. Branyan began the year on the disabled list because of a bulging disk in his lower back. It's the same condition that caused him to miss the final month of his career year in 2009, but it hasn't prevented him from becoming a regular in the Tribe lineup.
"Russell had the most productive season of his career with us last year, so we know he's a good fit for our team and our ballpark," Zduriencik said. "With our pitchers throwing so well, and our young starters still developing, I wanted to give them every opportunity to continue to develop. Part of that development is winning games, and we feel Russell can help us do that.
"We are pleased to add Russell's presence to our lineup."
To make room for Branyan, the Mariners optioned first baseman Mike Carp to Triple-A Tacoma.
Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu said he expected Branyan to serve as the everyday first baseman, and with Seattle already carrying a stable of players capable of manning first, Carp's role would be significantly diminished. Branyan made all 43 of his starts with the Indians this year as a first baseman.
"It puts a lot of pressure on guys [not having a power guy]," Wakamatsu said. "The legitimate threat from last year is [Jose Lopez] because of the 25 [home runs], but if you look at Lopy, he's a guy who this year came out to try and be a 30- or 35-home-run guy. Same thing with [Franklin Gutierrez]. I put him in the three-hole maybe before his time, and just the extra pressure ... that's exactly what Jack's looking for, to get someone in there who can take pressure off these guys."
Carrera is no stranger to being traded. He was involved in the three-team, 12-player behemoth of a swap that, among other things, sent J.J. Putz to the Mets during the 2008 Winter Meetings. That's the same deal in which the Indians sent Franklin Gutierrez to Seattle in exchange for Luis Valbuena from the Mariners and Joe Smith from the Mets.A left-handed hitter with speed, the 23-year-old Carrera was batting .268 with a .654 OPS, nine steals, six doubles, two triples and 18 RBIs in 64 games for Triple-A Tacoma. In six Minor League seasons, Carrera, a native of Venezuela, has hit .291 with a .750 OPS and 115 steals. Diaz, a 21-year-old native of the Dominican Republic, was batting .295 with a .779 OPS, seven homers, eight doubles, three triples and 41 RBIs at High Desert. In five Minor League seasons, he's hit .255 with a .668 OPS, 16 homers and 159 RBIs.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. He blogs about baseball at CastroTurf. JR Radcliffe contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.