16 February 2011
In a somewhat surprising move, the Diamondbacks have signed 1B Russell Branyan to a minor league contract with an invitation to Spring Training. Branyan has played for six teams over the last four seasons - Padres, Phillies, Cardinals, Brewers, Mariners, and Indians - and has shown outstanding power everywhere. His stats for the last two seasons probably make him the best power threat on the team:
2009: .251/.347/.520, 31 HR, 76 RBI, 58BB, 149K, 130 OPS+
2010: .237/.323/.487, 25 HR, 57 RBI, 46BB, 131K, 125 OPS+
Although Branyan has played 1B, 3B, LF, and RF over his career, he has been primary a first baseman for the last two years, and has actually been decent defensively. Like ex-Diamondback Mark Reynolds, he hits for a low average (career .234) with a lot of strikeouts (176 Ks per 162 Games) and a fair number of walks (career .330 OBP).
Is Branyan now the favorite to win the 1B job? If he has overcome the back injuries and pizza-parlor mishaps of the last two years, probably. But Branyan has always had a significant platoon split; in 2010 he had an .844 OPS against RHP but dropped to .626 against LP. For his career, he is at .841 against RHP and only .733 vs. LHP. The previous choice to play 1B, Juan Miranda, also bats left handed, so a platoon won't work there. But Miranda is out of options, so he will probably also stay on the roster. If Branyan could still play 3B, he would be a good partner for Melvin Mora. But Branyan was never a good defensive 3B even before his back problems flared up.
Is this trouble for Brandon Allen? It could be, because there are only a few roster spots available. If Branyan does make the team and Miranda is kept as a reserve since he is out of options, would the Diamondbacks want another LH slugger on the roster? Allen's best hope is to win the LF job over Xavier Nady and Gerardo Parra. That would leave a bench of Nady, Miranda, Blum, Bloomquist, and Blanco. But more likely is that Nady starts in LF, Parra stays as a backup OF, and Allen goes back to AAA.