With Cliff Lee and Victor Martinez being traded away last season, the overriding thought was that the next year or two would be used to develop the current younger talent that comprises the current Cleveland Indians roster. As of today, it appears that the developing will happen – just not where fans may have originally assumed.
Today, the Indians officially announced the signing of veteran slugger Russell Branyan. The $2 million deal is for one year with a mutual player/club option for 2011. In his second stint with the Indians, Branyan is considered to be “the guy that can make the most impact right now” by manager Manny Acta.
“He’s going to get the majority of the playing time,” said Acta. “We didn’t sign him to be a back-up guy. He’s going to play every day somewhere.”
Coming off of a campaign that saw Branyan club over 30 home runs despite missing time with a back injury, having this type of talent in the middle of an order would typically be a good thing. But with it comes the fact that Branyan’s presence will take at-bats away from at least one of the younger players on the team.
“At the end of the day, if everybody is healthy it obviously will impact one of the young guys,” said Acta. “I guarantee that both of those guys will play every single day this year.”
But what Acta did not say is where said players would be playing. Acta repeatedly used the phrase “running into the ground” in terms of what his plans are with his power hitters Travis Hafner, Matt LaPorta as well as Branyan. All three players could see time at the DH slot as well in the event that Hafner were to receive a day off or succumb to any setback with his shoulder. What Acta has with LaPorta is the ability to play in the outfield as well. Assuming Branyan is the opening day starter at first base, LaPorta would start in left field meaning that fellow up-and-comer Michael Brantley could be spending the beginning of the 2010 season in Columbus with the Clippers.
In 112 at-bats with the big league team last season, Brantley hit .313 with 10 runs, 11 RBI and four stolen bases. He will be 23-years old for the 2010 season, and the team could use the early portion of the season to help Brantley develop a little more power before becoming a full time outfielder at the big league level. Alas, this is a move that may not sit well with the majority of fans that would like to see the players that will comprise the core of the Indians going forward.
And all of this does not even consider the fact that first baseman Jordan Brown who will be 26-years old this season and will likely be playing in Columbus once again despite hitting .336/.381/.532 (OPS of .932) in 415 at-bats last season. Also impacted is catcher/first baseman Chris Giminez who was taken off of the roster to make room for Branyan.
When asked about Branyan’s penchant for striking out, Acta w.as not all too concerned.
“They only bother me just like everyone else, when there’s a guy on third with less than two outs,” Acta said. ”There are times you wish a guy strikes out instead of hitting into a double play and with the power that he provides come the strikeouts. He has had a very productive season despite being bothered by his back so we welcome the 30 home runs that he can provide us.”
Acta says that the team has not decided on who will win the utility infielder job. The two players looking for that spot are veteran infielder Mark Grudzielanek and the recently acquired infielder Brian Bixler.
There will also be two intrasquad games prior to the first spring training game against the Cincinnati Reds on March 5th.
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