Why Am I So Excited About The Return of Russell Branyan?

Seriously. I couldn’t tell you why this move arouses me. But it does.

Russell Branyan is not the world’s greatest baseball player, far from it in fact. He can hit home runs, though. And the Mariners are a team desperately in need of just that.

Currently last in the American League in dingers, the M’s lineup will take to the return of Branyan like Lisa Gangel to Patrick Kerney. Likewise, Branyan should embrace his reunion with Safeco Field’s short right field porch. Let’s face it. Branyan and the M’s were made for each other. Like Spencer and Heidi. Like Reggie and Kim. Like Khloe and Lamar (Khlamar).

All of this, of course, begs one simple question: Why did the M’s ever let Branyan out of their grasp in the first place?

The team could have signed their 2009 home run leader for pennies in the offseason, but instead allowed him to leave for Cleveland on a one-year deal. They’ve now been forced to relinquish two prospects (AAA outfielder Ezequiel Carrera, and A-ball shortstop Juan Diaz) to reacquire their one-time property. Does anyone else have a flashback to that scene in Father of the Bride II when Steve Martin’s character repurchases his home at a considerably higher cost than he sold it for from Eugene Levy? Anyone? No? Just me? Okay, just me.

Rumor has it that the M’s front office was convinced that a) Branyan’s ’09 campaign was a bit of a fluke, b) Branyan’s injury history was bound to catch up with him, and c) Branyan’s glove was weak sauce. So what caused them to change their mind?

I think I may have the answer. Maybe.

While Option C still applies (somewhat), Branyan has quietly put together a decent 2010 after starting the year on the disabled list (which lends itself to Option B, though Branyan has rebounded nicely from his early-season maladies). The first baseman’s ability to come back from injury indicated that he wasn’t as big a health risk as initially thought, and his recent numbers prove that last year was no flash in the pan.

The 34-year-old is batting .263/.328/.819 with 10 home runs and 24 RBI in 52 games this season. Those numbers, when transferred over to Seattle, would put Branyan fifth on the team in batting average, seventh in OBP, second in OPS (behind Ichiro, and not counting current “leader” Josh Bard), first in home runs, and fourth in RBI. Not too shabby.

Branyan’s intended replacement at first base to start the year, Casey Kotchman, has been abysmal to the point of being benched in recent weeks. The sure-handed defender has struggled mightily at the plate, batting just .189 in 59 games thus far.

While the Mariners have preached a pitching-and-defense philosophy all year long, the lack of quality hitting has forced them to make a move such as this. What Branyan lacks in defensive ability, he’ll surely atone for with the bat.

Despite possibly leading the league in first baseman on any given active roster (the team now has Branyan, Kotchman, Mike Carp, Mike Sweeney, Ryan Langerhans, and the newly inaugurated Josh Wilson among those who can play the one-bag…and that’s not even counting part-timer Jose Lopez), the M’s now have a surefire starter in the ex-Indian that they can pencil into the middle of the order every single day. Considering the carousel that had become the right corner of the M’s infield, it should be a nice luxury for manager Don Wakamatsu to be able to rely on one individual on a game-by-game basis.

Long story short, I think we all agree that the M’s should have re-signed Branyan last winter. They didn’t, they realized they made a mistake, and now they’ve accepted blame and totally redeemed themselves (Dumb and Dumber reference, if you didn’t catch it). Back in the Bavasi era (perhaps we should start referring to Bill Bavasi as He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named, like he’s Voldemort or something), mistakes were only exacerbated by always trying to cover up the fact that the front office was far from perfect. It’s nice to see the current regime mitigate their shortcomings by taking some action.

And whether or not you support the move, I guarantee that you’ll enjoy watching Branyan park a few balls in the right field seats when the team comes home from their current road trip. Everyone (not just chicks) digs the longball.

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