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The Muscle Is Back

Russell Branyan
Well, the Mariners made a trade, just not the one most have been speculating about. In fact, nobody had really speculated that they were on the brink of acquiring Russell Branyan from the Indians for Ezequiel Carrera and Juan Diaz.

First of all, I am an unabashed Branyan fan. He isn't the best player in the majors, and he has his obvious holes, but nobody hits more majestic blasts. Nobody. He's just awesome to watch, and I've definitely missed watching him hit this year. The Mariners have missed his thunder as well, but for no longer.

Carrera is an outfielder that the M's acquired last year from the Mets in the epic J.J. Putz for half a roster swap. He had a killer year in AA, and has been steadily heating up in Tacoma this year. At best, he becomes a speedy leadoff hitter that sprays line drives with a good eye and good defense. At worst, he never squares up the ball as a big leaguer, which would pretty much completely kill any hitting value he could provide. There's no doubt that Ezequiel has very limited power, which makes him a questionable prospect. With Michael Saunders, Greg Halman, and Carlos Peguero in the system, as well as Guti and Ichiro locked in place, Carrera was expendable.

I don't know a ton about Juan Diaz, other than he is a shortstop in advanced A ball, and his hitting numbers are solid, as many are in the High Desert hitting paradise. He didn't hit before hitting the desert, but that includes a stop in the pitching friendly Midwest league, and it's reasonable to assume he has developed with some seasoning. Still, with Nick Franklin and Carlos Triunfel in the system, Diaz hardly leaves a gaping organizational hole.

Back at the major league level, I wonder what this move does for Casey Kotchman. He is blocked for good now, though he does have value as a defensive replacement. Personally, with Branyan back, I would keep Ryan Langerhans around and cut Kotchman loose. I think having both of them on the bench for good is redundant, especially with how little Don Wakamatsu uses his bench.

I wonder what this move does for Cliff Lee as well. My best guess is nothing. At last year's trade deadline, the Mariners made a serious push for Roy Halladay, while also trading away Jarrod Washburn. Jack Zduriencik is fully capable of buying and selling. Clearly, all that matters to him is that the price is right. What this move probably indicates is that the Mariners will hold on to Lee if they don't get the price they are looking for, which is a good thing in my book.

At the end of the day, I have mixed feelings about this move. The fan inside me is stoked to have Russell Branyan back. I think the price is fair too. This isn't like when the M's traded Shin-Soo Choo and Asdrubal Cabrera to the Indians for Ben Broussard and Eduardo Perez, respectively. The Mariners mortgaged a few marginal prospects for a legitimate upgrade this time around.

However, I don't think Albert Pujols could save this offense, much less Russell Branyan. This team is better with Russell back in the fold, but it's still not going anywhere, and now the organization has a couple fewer pieces that could have figured into the long-term future. There are two things keeping this deal from being an obvious bad move: 1. how expendable the guys the M's gave up are, and 2. how much of an upgrade Russell Branyan is (along with how awesome he is to watch). It is a deal I doubt that I would do, but it is one that Z did. In this case, I'm not sure either choice is right or wrong. It is simply a choice, so I will let the fan inside me dream of the Muscle's moonshots as I go to sleep tonight.