In trading Russell Branyan to the Seattle Mariners, the Indians corrected probably their dumbest mistake of the offseason, which was signing Russell Branyan. The Indians received Triple-A centerfielder Ezequiel Carrera and shortstop Juan Diaz, who is in Single A ball right now. Given recent history of trades of Tribe first basemen to Seattle, it’s hard to dismiss this trade as a salary dump. And while Mark Shapiro says he likes both players, commenting that Carrera is a speedy slap hitter (read: no power) who can play defense, and Diaz is more of a project player that helps pad the lack of depth at the middle infield position in the organization, the big reason this trade was made was to give big league playing time to Matt LaPorta. LaPorta becomes the everyday first baseman, with Austin Kearns entrenched in left (at least until he is traded too).
While there’s no evidence that the players received from Seattle are going to be as dynamic as Shin-Soo Choo (acquired from Seattle in 2006 for Ben Broussard) or Asdrubal Cabrera (2006, Seattle, for Eduardo Perez), neither player was a heralded prospect when they were acquired by Cleveland. But both are excellent examples of Shapiro and his crew doing their homework and stunning examples of Seattle not doing theirs. Do I think Cleveland struck gold again? No, in fact I think there’s a good chance neither will be an impact player for the Indians. Griffin Cooper at fansided’s Seattle Mariners site, Sodo Mojo, seems thrilled at the idea of Branyan returning. The move strikes me as curious, because while Branyan is actually an improvement in Seattle, it makes you wonder why the Mariners didn’t just re-sign him in the first place. The Indians will either pay for Branyan’s buyout on his $5 mutual option, or send the Mariners a PTBN.
But for the Indians, this move is all about clearing space for Matt LaPorta. The fact the Indians had to sign him in the first place is a little silly – at the time it seemed like a half-assed attempt at contending, and while Branyan performed far better than I expected, it was still a dumb signing. Hopefully LaPorta can settle down and produce without anyone breathing down his neck. It also guarantees Austin Kearns (who has performed better than I think anyone expected) a spot in the lineup in left, at least until the trade deadline. LaPorta was crushing the ball at Triple A and really he had nothing left to prove down there last year, so it’s make or break time for Matt. He either starts to get it done and produce or he’ll go the way of Andy Marte, and just become a spare body. Given the hefty cost to acquire LaPorta, and how much the Tribe brass has pinned their rebuilding efforts on his becoming an offensive force, the time is now to see if the Indians were right about LaPorta.
UPDATE: It pays to check Call to the Pen. Nathaniel Stoltz loves the trade for the Indians, saying that Diaz and Carrera are underrated prospects who both play very good defense. Diaz has a bit of a red flag in that he played in a hitter’s park, but Stoltz says that at Diaz’s age (21) he still has room to grow. Sounds like the Tribe did more than just grab names out of a hat.