This week, after months of sitting atop the free agent heap, slugger Russell Branyan
finally found a team for the upcoming season by signing with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Branyan inked a minor league deal with the D-Backs and will attend spring training with the club. He's expected to compete for time at first base with youngster Brandon Allen
and former Yankee Juan Miranda
. Allen is likely Arizona's future first baseman but also plays outfield and may require more seasoning, while Miranda is out of minor league options.
Branyan is a notorious "three true outcomes" hitter, as nearly half of his career plate appearances end in a strikeout, walk, or home run. He began his career as a third baseman and outfielder with the Cleveland Indians, but toiled in the minor leagues and now joins his tenth organization (ninth big league club).
Russell "the Muscle" had his best big league season with Seattle in 2009, when he notched a .251 batting average, a .347 on-base percentage, 31 home runs, and 76 RBI, all in just 116 games. He followed that up with 25 home runs and 57 RBI last year, but he hit just .237 with a .323 on-base average and played only 109 games with Cleveland and Seattle. The missed time is mostly due to recurrent back problems, and the Georgia native has missed a lot of time due to injury throughout his career.
Branyan can thrill fans with big displays of power, smacking baseballs deep past the outfield wall, but outside of his home run numbers he is a below-average major league hitter. His injuries have limited him to first base duty, though he could possibly still play third base or a corner outfield spot in a desperate situation.
For the Diamondbacks, Branyan is a bit of an insurance policy for a position with a pair of unproven commodities in Allen and Miranda. If neither one seizes the job this spring, it's quite likely that Branyan will receive the bulk of the playing time at first base. If he's relegated to bench duty, Russell would still provide Arizona with a heavy-hitting lefty bat off the bench, not unlike veteran journeyman power hitter Matt Stairs
. The acquisition will help offset the power lost when the D-Backs dealt third baseman Mark Reynolds, but Branyan really isn't a permanent solution.
With sufficient playing time and a healthy season, Branyan could push for 30 home runs and be a key power bat for an improving Arizona club, but he's averaged just 83 major league games per season since 2003. From a fantasy perspective, he could be a cheap power source and has been known to hit home runs in bunches during hot streaks, but he isn't worth a draft pick in most leagues and should be scooped off the waiver wire only as needed.