Archive for Russell Branyan

(REUTERS/Mike Segar)

The Yankees played their 60th game of the season last night and they’ve only had Brett Gardner in the starting lineup for eight of them. The elbow injury he suffered sliding for a ball against the Twins has morphed into a series of setbacks that culminated with a visit to Dr. James Andrews yesterday. Gardner will see Dr. Tim Kremcheck for a second opinion on Thursday, at which point the Yankees will presumably announce the latest diagnosis.

Barring some fortunate and frankly unexpected good news, Gardner is going to miss several more weeks. A few days ago Joe Girardi indicated that he doesn’t expect his left fielder back until after the All-Star break, which is still more than a month away. Raul Ibanez has been better than expected and softened the blow of losing Gardner a bit, but the Yankees can’t really rely on him as the everyday left fielder for an extended period of time. He’s already started 33 games in the field and at 40 years old, there has to be some concern about him wearing down later in the season.

Unless the Yankees get good news on Thursday, they have to at least consider bolstering their roster with Gardner on the shelf. With all due respect to Dewayne Wise, he’s nothing more than a defensive replacement/spot starter in the big leagues. The Yankees can do better without having to go outside the organization, they have some potential solutions sitting in Triple-A.

Chris Dickerson
I’ve written about Dickerson before, noting that he offers the ability to hit right-handed pitching (career .341 wOBA against northpaws) in addition to strong defense and base running skills. I don’t know if he’s a better defensive player than Wise but the difference isn’t worth arguing about. Dickerson can handle all three outfield spots with aplomb as well as contribute offensively with his bat and legs. The Yankees don’t have to play him every day in a straight platoon, but they could run him out there three times a week against righties while keeping Ibanez in the DH role. Cutting Wise in favor of Dickerson — who is out of minor league options and would have be waived whenever Gardner is healthy — is an upgrade in almost every single way.

Russell Branyan
Joe and I talked about this option on yesterday’s podcast. The idea would be to dump Wise, keep playing Ibanez in left, and use Branyan as the regular DH against right-handers. He’s come back very well from his back injury — six homers in 13 minor league games already — but it’s tough to consider him anything more than a first baseman/DH option. Branyan’s days of even faking third base and the corner outfield are a thing of the past. Adding a huge left-handed power bat lineup is obviously desirable, but it would leave the Yankees without a true backup center fielder and further limit roster flexibility.

I suppose it’s also worth mentioning Jack Cust here, who is also raking in Triple-A but has yet to play a single game in the field. It’s been DH or the bench. At least Branyan has played first base pretty much every game.

(Rudy C. Jones/MiLB.com)

Ronnie Mustelier
The most interesting 27-year-old in the minor league system, Mustelier has been hitting non-stop since signing last summer and he’s now doing it at the Triple-A level. Joe Girardi raved about his bat speed recently and said his name has come up as a call-up candidate at various points this year … but that’s pretty much all we know about the guy. He’s small — listed at 5-foot-10 and 210 lbs. — and right-handed with phenomenal numbers, but we don’t know anything about his defensive skills or speed or anything else. Box scores only tell you so much. Mustelier has spent a ton of time in left field and also has experience in the infield, so his versatility as a plus. He’s not an ideal platoon candidate given his right-handedness, but he could also hit enough that it doesn’t even matter.

Eduardo Nunez
This one probably won’t happen for a number of reasons. For one, Nunez is currently on the minor league DL with a thumb issue. For another, the Yankees sent him to Triple-A to focus on one position after bouncing him all around the field over the last year or so. Calling Nunez back up to do anything — utility infielder, platoon left fielder, etc. — would go against that plan. That doesn’t mean it’s not an option, just that it seems unlikely. That said, we can’t rule anything out. Whenever Nunez gets healthy — probably soon since he was taking grounders just last week — he figures to at least be on the call-up radar.

Miscellaneous
As always, the top minor league affiliate is chock full of random call-up options. Brandon Laird is on the 40-man roster and can play all four corner spots, but he can’t hit — .251/.289/.393 in 870 total plate appearances in Triple-A. Corban Joseph has zero outfield experience so he’s of no use in this situation despite being on the 40-man. Colin Curtis is a solid enough defensive player and can play all three outfield spots, but he’s never been much with the stick. Kevin Russo can play all over the field and make some contact, but otherwise isn’t any kind of upgrade. Neither he nor Curtis is on the 40-man roster as well. Not much to see here.

* * *

Of course, the Yankees always have the option of doing nothing and sticking with their current setup. Ibanez, Andruw Jones, and Jayson Nix could continue to take turns in left field while Wise gets nothing more than the occasional spot start. That’s  fine for two weeks or whatever, but I’d rather not see them roll with it for an extended period of time. It’s already been long enough as far as I’m concerned. Anyway, stuff is like this begging for a poll, so…

How should the Yankees replace Brett Gardner internally?
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Saturday: Via Bryan Hoch, the Yankees saved about two months worth of salary with the move. “They feel like I’ve got another three or four weeks of rehab, so they’ve decided to rehab me,” said the slugger. “At the end of that rehab, we’ll see where we are.”

Friday: Via Mark Feinsand, the Yankees have released Russell Branyan from his minor league contract. They then re-signed him to a new minor league deal. They may have changed the terms following the back injury that has kept him on the shelf all Spring Training, or they could have circumvented the $100k retention bonus. He’ll probably continue rehabbing just in case he ever gets healthy and Raul Ibanez stinks. Either way, welcome back Russ, even though you never really left.

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The agony of da feet. (/crickets) (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

The Yankees seem to be losing the Spring Training injury war at the moment, but thankfully they haven’t run into anything too serious yet. Here’s the latest news on the walking wounded…

  • Derek Jeter has a “tender” right calf and will be shut down until Tuesday. This is not the same calf that caused him to miss a month last season. [Mark Feinsand]
  • David Robertson still feels “a little” soreness in his bone bruised right foot. He’s been running on a treadmill but has yet to get outside and really test it out. Robertson did play catch yesterday though, and that’s good news. [Jack Curry & George King]
  • Russell Martin has some tightness in his left groin, so he’s going to be held out of action for a few days. It’s unclear if it happened when he nearly collided with Chien-Ming Wang at first base yesterday. [Bryan Hoch]
  • Nick Swisher‘s sore groin is feeling better, but the team is giving him an extra day off just as a precaution. [Feinsand]
  • Eduardo Nunez is going to swing a bat tomorrow after doing nothing the last three days. He hasn’t played since getting hit by a pitch in the right hand last Monday, and was scratched from a game earlier this week after testing it out in batting practice. [Curry]
  • Russell Branyan is getting an epidural for his sore back. He hasn’t played at all this spring and was barely able to take batting practice before it flared up. There’s a pretty good chance he’ll get released before he ever gets into a game. [Chad Jennings]
  • Manny Delcarmen (remember him?) has started throwing off a half mound as he works his way back from a lat strain. [Jennings]

Just as a quick recap, here’s a list of the walking wounded: Jeter (calf), Robertson (foot), Martin (groin), Swisher (groin), Nunez (hand), Branyan (back), Delcarmen (lat), Joba Chamberlain (elbow), George Kontos (oblique), Ramiro Pena (ankle), Freddy Garcia (hand), Austin Romine (back), and Dan Burawa (oblique). Given all the injured shortstops, we’re going to be seeing a lot of Doug Bernier over the next few days.

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(AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

The Yankees are looking for a left-handed DH on the cheap, and they may have found one today. Dan Martin reports that they’ve signed Russell Branyan to a minor league contract with an invite to Spring Training, where he’ll get a chance to make the team. Joel Sherman says he’ll earn $750k plus incentives while on the active roster. Since it’s a non-guaranteed contract, the signing doesn’t necessarily preclude the Yankees from signing someone like Raul Ibanez or Johnny Damon.

Branyan, 36, spent last season with the Diamondbacks and Angels and was pretty awful. He posted a .300 wOBA with five homers in 146 plate appearances, his worst season in about eleven years. He is just a year removed from 25 homers and a .350 wOBA, however. Branyan does three things really, really well. He strikes out a ton (29.7 K% last three years), draws lots of walks (11.3 BB%), and hits for ungodly power (.248 ISO). He has eight homers in 14 career games at the New Yankee Stadium, including some of the longest blasts in the ballpark’s history (like this one off Javy Vazquez and this one off Al Aceves).

Over the last three seasons, Branyan has hit .250/.347/.507 against right-handed pitchers but only .208/.290/.435 against southpaws, so he’s strictly a platoon bat. Although he has some third base and left field experience under his belt, it’s been a while since he’s played anywhere other than first. Frankly, his best position is DH. Coincidentally, he was part of that 2008 Brewers team with CC Sabathia and the recently signed Bill Hall. If nothing else, Branyan should put on a show in Spring Training.

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The free agent market brims with left-handed hitters who could play the role of part-time DH for the Yankees. The list comprises many household names, and each could provide the Yankees with quality at-bats in a part-time role. Each is also flawed, which is pretty standard for any remaining free agent (Prince Fielder excepting). Yet that could work in the Yankees’ favor. It means the players are likely open to a part-time role, which fits the Yankees’ needs well enough. It also means that they’ll likely fit into the $1 to $2 million budget the Yankees have reportedly set for the DH spot.

Even better: Most, if not all, of these candidates could sign minor league deals. That means all the upside for virtually no risk. Here they are, in the reverse order of preference.

Nick Johnson: Many, if not most, Yankees fans will retch upon seeing this. The last go-round with Johnson ended horribly. He came to the plate just 98 times and hit for extra bases just six times. He did walk a lot, as can be expected, but that’s about all he did. Last year Johnson rehabbed in the Indians system, though he didn’t even crack a .320 OBP at AAA. He also experienced wrist issues, again, earlier in the season. If the Yankees do want to give Johnson another look, it simply has to be in addition to someone else.

Dan Johnson: We all remember the other Johnson from his bottom of the ninth heroics in Game 162 last season. Johnson apparently has a penchant for this type of hit. They do call him The Great Pumpkin, after all, because he comes around once a year and hits a big homer, usually to the Red Sox peril. Problem is, he hasn’t really hit in the majors since 2007. He does clobber AAA, having produced a .445 wOBA in 2010 and a .374 wOBA in 2011. But that apparently doesn’t help his major league performance much. Again, he’s a fine option if there’s someone else ahead of him.

Hideki Matsui: We know that the Yankees have been in contact with Matsui, but they’ve likely been in contact with many other similar players as well. As Mike noted in that brief post, Matsui’s 2011 stunk pretty badly. He was stuck in Oakland, and his slow start did not help his case. At age 38, he could be all but finished in the bigs. But on a minor league deal he could be an interesting option. After all, he did have a decent 2010 season, particularly in the second half. Return him to the familiar confines of Yankee Stadium and limit his at-bats to right-handed pitchers, and he might have one more year left in him.

J.D. Drew: There is no doubt that Drew, now age 36, is in stark decline. After putting up two phenomenal years for the Red Sox in 2008 and 2009 he’s seen his numbers drop in the last two years, and last year particularly. Drew also spent considerable time on the DL last year. A platoon DH role could help mitigate some of that injury risk, but the declining numbers, particularly in terms of power, are a bit disconcerting. He gets bumped to the mid-tier because of his name value, his batting eye, and his ability to play the outfield if necessary. The Yanks would really have to believe that they can get a quality 400 PA out of him if they were to even sign him to a minor league deal.

Casey Kotchman: Last season the Rays signed Kotchman to a minor league deal, and that worked out exceedingly well for them. In 563 PA he produced a 125 wRC+, mainly on the strength of his .378 OBP. At the same time, much of that value came from his .306 batting average, which was almost 40 points higher than his career average. As expected of a left-handed hitter, he did handle righties quite a deal better than lefties, producing a 136 wRC+ against them. But unless Kotchman turned something around for real in 2011, it’s tough to get past his career 102 wRC+ against righties.

Raul Ibanez: There are plenty of reasons to be concerned about Ibanez, whose 2012 will be his age-40 season. His numbers took a big dip in 2011, particularly his walk rate. He managed to walk in just 5.7 percent of his PA, his lowest rate since 1998 (when he came to the plate just 103 times). The good news is that he’s one year removed from a pretty decent season, and even in his poor season he hit righties well enough. In 2010 he was even better, with a 116 wRC+ against righties. He’s a risk, for sure, but if the Yankees can keep Ibanez fresh he could whale quite a few homers at Yankee Stadium.

Russell Branyan: This is my official endorsement for Branyan, who is the ideal candidate for a platoon DH role. His career 120 wRC+ against righties looks attractive enough, but it’s his .259 career ISO against righties that looks the most attractive. He’ll strike out his share, but he’ll also launch quite a few bombs — we’ve already seen two mammoth homers of his at Yankee Stadium. While last year was a down year, in 2010 Branyan produced a 137 wRC+ against righties, including 19 homers and 17 doubles in 322 PA. A return to that level, minus all PA against left-handed pitching, makes for an ideal fit. He and Andruw Jones would make a powerful and cost-effective DH platoon.

Again, every player on this list is flawed, some greatly so. Clearly they’d be better off with a more sure things, such as Carlos Pena. But if they really do have a budget of $1 to $2 million for a DH, one or more of these guys might be the way to go. They all have the potential to produce decent to very good numbers against right-handed pitching, which is just what the Yankees seek. That they’d all come on minor league deals makes them even more attractive, since that eliminates almost all of the risk. If the Yankees do not find a true righty-mashing DH, they’d do well enough with a Branyan or an Ibanez.

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Prior to last night’s loss to the Mets we heard that Eric Chavez is slowly but surely making his way back from a deep bone bruise in his foot and has not walked with a limp in days. He’s still a few weeks away from returning though, and the Yankees have been short a viable pinch-hitting option and true backup first/third baseman since he hurt himself legging out a triple in Detroit. Two players were dropped by their teams within the last 24 hours, so let’s see if either is capable of filling that bench role for the Yankees while Chavez is on the mend…

That poor baseball.

Russell Branyan (released by Arizona)

We’ve watched Branyan hit some absolute moonshots at Yankee Stadium over the last few seasons, like this one off Javy Vazquez or this one off A.J. Burnett or this one off Chad Gaudin or this one off Al Aceves. He’s managed to hit seven homeruns in just 12 games (11 starts) at the newest version of Yankee Stadium, including six (!!!) last year alone. The D’Backs cut him because he had a .285 wOBA as the third wheel in a first base platoon that included former Yankees Juan Miranda and Xavier Nady.

Cartilage damage and miscellaneous stiffness in his back has limited Branyan to just 256 games (out of 368) since 2009, but more importantly they’ve relegated him to first base and DH. He hasn’t played third base since 2008 (276 defensive innings) or a corner outfield spot with any regularity since 2007 (79.1 innings), so his value is limited. Despite the poor showing in the desert, Branyan’s underlying skills are still the same. He’s never had a sub-.220 ISO or walked in fewer than 10% of his plate appearances in any season in which he came to plate 100 times or more. It’s the standard three-true outcomes package, 50.6% of his career plate appearances have ended with a homer, a strikeout, or a walk.

At least that one was against the Red Sox. (AP Photo/Steve Nesius)

Dan Johnson (designated for assignment by Tampa Bay)

Johnson is another guy that has killed the Yankees over the last year or so, memorably hitting these two go-ahead homers homers (in the same game) last September. He started the year as Carlos Pena’s primary replacement at first but was so bad (.165 wOBA) that he eventually lost the job to Casey Kotchman (!!!) and did little more than pinch-hit or spot start before getting the axe yesterday.

There’s no way to spin that horrible performance into something positive, yeah his BABIP was low (.133) but that doesn’t explain why he all of a sudden decided to start swinging at 26.4% of the pitches he saw out of the zone (16.3% career). Johnson’s track record consists of patience (12.9% walk rate) and power (.169 ISO in the bigs but .253 in nearly 2,000 Triple-A plate appearances), and unlike Branyan he can actually play third. He’s played 45 games at the position since the start of 2010 (majors and minors) and although he’s not a great defender there, he can at least stand there and fake it every once in a while.

* * *

Neither Branyan or Johnson is a perfect fill-in for Chavez, but then again Chavez isn’t exactly perfect either given his propensity to get hurt. Too bad we can’t combine Branyan’s offense with Johnson’s health and versatility, that would be the best solution. Branyan would only cost the league minimum, though Johnson said he’d like to stay with the Rays’ organization if he clears waivers, so he’s unlikely to elect free agency. The Yankees would have to claim him off waivers, which would mean assuming his $1M salary for the rest of the season. That money is no big deal, but it’s worth keeping in mind.

Ultimately, either guy would just be stepping in until Chavez returns, but we have to remember who we’re dealing with. It sounds like Chavez will be back sometime next month, but he could easily be out longer than that given his injury history. Having a semi-capable replacement like Branyan or Johnson could end up being more important than we realize.

What would you do with the last bench spot until Eric Chavez comes back?
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