To no one’s surprise, the Tribe announced today that Big Money Russell Branyan will open the season on the 15-day DL. Branyan has yet to appear in a spring training game, and he took batting practice for the first time on Saturday. If Branyan does not appear in a game this spring, the move to the DL could be retroactive to March 27th, meaning he could be back the second week of the season.
This means Matt LaPorta will take Branyan’s spot at first, and the left field position is open between Michael Brantley, Austin Kearns and Trevor Crowe. Crowe doesn’t really appear to have much of a shot at the starting gig but could catch on as a fourth outfielder. So the Indians must decide whether to go with the young, talented and exciting Brantley, and sacrifice a year of control of him, or go with Kearns, who has had a decent spring and is apparently fully healthy. The Indians would have to clear space on their 40-man roster for Kearns, who is in camp on a minor league deal. Just by a quick look of the 40-man, I’d say catcher Wyatt Toregas would be a strong possibility to be designated for assignment in order to make room.
While Branyan may not be out that long, the signing is still awful. As Anthony Castrovince says in the above article, “Backs are tricky that way.” This could be a long-term issue. And if that’s the case, the Indians just pissed away $2 million. Or, he could try to play through the pain, be just not terrible enough to lose his roster spot, and take away valuable playing time from one of the younger players. The latter would probably be worse. Yes, there’s the best case scenario, where he plays well and is healthy but he still blocks the development of Michael Brantley in this scenario.
Regardless, one player who could reap the benefits of Branyan being out is Andy Marte, who would back up LaPorta at first base. I have long said that Marte has not received a legit shot so I’m in favor of anything that gives him a chance to prove me right. And I like being right.