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May 20, 2014; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Trevor Bauer (47) delivers in the first inning against the Detroit Tigers at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

20 Years After Drafting Him, Indians Still Getting Production From Russell Branyan

It’s now July, which means the real excitement of trade season is about to begin.

Sure, there have been a few small transactions here and there over the course of this season, but July is when most of the fun stuff happens. The speculation you’ve been hearing for months will finally start to come to fruition.

But in addition to speculating about what could happen, it’s a lot of fun to look back on trades from the past and how they’ve affected the Indians. The Indians have been no stranger to trades over the years, and by my count, 11 of the current members of their active roster were acquired via trade.

The Indians haven’t drafted many of their current players (7, by my count), but that doesn’t mean they haven’t been able to get solid contributions out of them — even after they leave the organization.

Even today, the Indians are still getting production out of Russell Branyan, who the Tribe drafted 20 years ago.

Branyan was a 7th-round draft choice of the Indians in 1994. He was the prototypical power hitting first baseman: in seemingly every at-bat, he either hit a home run, walked, or struck out.

He made his major league debut in 1998, and continued hitting mammoth home runs, walking, and striking out. But after hitting .205/.278/.379 in 180 plate appearances for the Tribe in 2002, he was dealt that June to the Reds for another first baseman, minor leaguer Ben Broussard. (Branyan was re-signed by the Indians in 2008, eventually being traded to the Mariners for outfielder Ezequiel Carrera and shortstop Juan Diaz, though neither are still members of the Indians’ organization.)

Broussard hit a solid .268/.332/.468 over parts of five seasons with Cleveland before being traded to the Mariners in July 2006 for two players: outfielder Shin-Soo Choo and a player to be named later (who became pitcher Shawn Nottingham).

20 years after drafting him, Russell Branyan (center) is still paying dividends for the Indians. (Credit: John Kuntz, The Plain Dealer)

20 years after drafting him, Branyan (center) is still paying dividends for the Indians. (Credit: John Kuntz, The Plain Dealer)

At the time, the consensus seemed to be that the Mariners won the trade. Choo had posted solid minor league numbers and was a former top-100 prospect, but had struggled in limited major league action. He also didn’t appear to be in Seattle’s future plans, as they had a young outfielder named Adam Jones quickly rising through the minors. The player to be named, Nottingham wasn’t anything special, and his career ended in 2009 after he posted an 8.37 ERA in 23 2/3 innings for the Pirates’ Double-A affiliate.

Meanwhile, Seattle needed an upgrade at designated hitter, and eventually settled on a platoon between Broussard and Eduardo Perez (who the Mariners acquired from the Indians less than a month earlier for a struggling minor leaguer named Asdrubal Cabrera). Both had been having solid seasons with the Indians, and it seemed as though the Mariners got two decent hitters for a small cost.

But Cabrera is still the Indians’ starting shortstop (whether you like it or not), and has had a solid career in Cleveland, while Choo emerged as one of the better hitters in baseball and hit .292/.383/.469 in parts of 7 seasons with the Indians. Broussard, meanwhile, struggled mightily in Seattle (as did Perez), was never the same hitter, and now has a career in music.

Eventually, however, the Tribe couldn’t afford to keep Choo long-term, and dealt him in December of 2012 to the Reds in a three-team deal also involving the Diamondbacks. In exchange for Choo, infielder Jason Donald, first baseman Lars Anderson, and reliever Tony Sipp, the Indians received relievers Matt Albers and Bryan Shaw and starter Trevor Bauer from the Diamondbacks, and outfielder Drew Stubbs from the Reds (the Indians eventually traded Stubbs to the Rockies for reliever Josh Outman).

Albers had a solid 2013 season in Cleveland (3.14 ERA, 3.49 FIP) before leaving as a free agent and signing with the Astros.

Shaw has quietly emerged as one of the better late-inning relievers in baseball, and has a 3.08 ERA (nearly identical to his 3.07 FIP) in 111 innings for the Indians across 108 appearances since the trade.

May 20, 2014; Cleveland, OH, USA; Indians relief pitcher Bryan Shaw (27) delivers in the seventh inning against the Detroit Tigers at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Bauer was ranked as baseball’s 14th-best prospect before the 2013 season by Baseball America, and 17th by MLB.com. He struggled in his first year with the Indians (in the majors and in the minors), but has been a completely different pitcher in 2014. His command, which used to be a huge problem, suddenly isn’t anymore. He had a 3.14 K/BB ratio with Triple-A Columbus this season, leading to a 2.15 ERA in 46 innings (7 starts) for the Clippers. He’s also posted a 4.39 ERA (4.52 FIP) and a 2.60 K/BB ratio in 53 1/3 innings across 9 starts for the Indians at the major league level this year. He’s still developing, but he’s made huge improvements and should be a big part of the Indians’ future.

Stubbs only hit .233/.305/.360 in 481 plate appearances, but part of his struggles were the result of repeated misuse by the Indians. Stubbs hit a solid .266/.361/.357 in 168 plate appearances against lefties, but was continuously exposed to right-handers, who he hit only .216/.275/.362 against. After the Indians signed outfielder David Murphy last offseason, Stubbs was the odd man out, and was later traded to Colorado.

In exchange for Stubbs, the Tribe received the left-handed Outman. Outman posted a solid 3.28 ERA for the Tribe this season, though it helped to mask an alarming FIP of 5.20. However, Outman was also the victim of questionable use by the Indians, as he held opposing left-handed hitters to a suffocating .180/.293/.380 line. He’s proven that he excels against left-handers but struggles against right-handers, so it makes no sense as to why he faced right-handers 52 times (compared to 58 plate appearances against lefties). As you might have predicted, Outman was crushed by righties to the tune of a .295/.404/.523 line. Despite the terrific success he had against lefties, the Indians — for whatever reason — decided to push their luck with Outman, even though he’s proven to be an effective lefty specialist. The Indians eventually became dissatisfied with Outman’s production (despite his questionable use), and designated him for assignment on June 18. He currently pitches for Triple-A Columbus.

After numerous deals along the way, the Indians essentially got a lights-out reliever (Shaw), a potentially dominant starting pitcher (Bauer), and a lefty specialist (Outman) in exchange for Branyan — who is now 38 and out of affiliated baseball — and a few spare parts (of Donald, Anderson, and Sipp, only Sipp is still in the majors).

For a team that can’t afford to spend big on free agents, the Indians have to find other ways to compete.

Trades like these have not only shaped the Indians in the past and present, but will continue to do so in the future.

 

Tags: Bryan Shaw Cleveland Indians Russell Branyan Trades Trevor Bauer

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