***Can you believe that it's almost that time again? Time to think about the upcoming free agent class! We'll be highlighting the pros and cons of signing each free agent and at the end of each piece, we'll make a prediction, albeit a very early prediction, about what each guy could command on the market. Of course, these predictions are subject to change***
At the beginning of the season, if you would have told me that Russell Branyan was going to be the Mariners first baseman through August, I would have laughed. Even though Branyan was given the opportunity to play everyday in Seattle, I had absolutely no faith that this guy could finally put it all together.
But much to my surprise, Branyan has put together a great season so far. He is hitting .260 with 24 home runs, 61 RBI, .361 OBP, and an impressive .529 slugging percentage.
So what can Branyan expect on the free agent market after the season? Let's take a look:
The Case for Branyan
The one thing that everyone always knew about Russell Branyan was the he could hit for power. Even as Branyan struggled to find his footing in the majors, teams kept giving him chances because they knew just how dynamic Branyan's power was. In an era where power numbers are on the decline, a player like Branyan who has such amazing raw power could become even more valuable on the free agent market.
2. The eyes!
-A big reason why Russell Branyan has broken out this season is because of a new vision program that Branyan has been on. Branyan still strikes out a lot (4th in AL), but the difference is that Branyan is hitting a respectable .260, which is well above his career batting average. Branyan will always be a strikeout hitter, but perhaps with his improved vision, the 33 year old Branyan is actually entering the best years of his career at the dish.
3. He can field, sort of
-While Branyan will never be confused for Mark Teixiera at first base, he's not likely to hurt the team with the his defense. According to fangraphs, Branyan's UZR/150 is .2, which is not great, but far better than fellow free agent first basemen Jason Giambi, Nick Jonhson (-7.1), Adam LaRoche (-3.8) or Aubrey Huff (-3.7).
The Case against Branyan
1. One year wonder?
Even though Branyan has put up big numbers so far in 2009, there have to be people out there questioning if Branyan is simply a one year wonder. Even with his tremendous power and talent, Branyan has never been able to put it together before this year. What happens if Branyan reverts back to his old form? There is no guarantee that the 2009 Branyan is the Branyan that whatever team signs him will actually get.
2. The Decline
-Over the first two months of the season, Branyan was an absolute beast at the plate by hitting over .300 with an OBP over .4400. However, since then Branyan's numbers have taken quite a huge dip. He hit only .265 in June and bottomed out at .159 in July. Teams will need to keep an eye on Branyan's stats over the final two months of the season to see if Branyan's first two months were simply a fluke.
-The first base free agent class is not exactly loaded with power threats, but there are a number of quality first basemen out there who will command attention. Between Adam LaRoche, Nick Johnson, and Aubrey Huff; teams will have a varied selection of first basemen to choose from. Branyan really seperates himself from the rest of the class with his power numbers.
Elias Ranking: None
This is a huge plus for the teams that are interested in Branyan. No draft picks for signing Branyan!
-(8/7: 2 years/$15 million)
The final two months of the season will be huge for Branyan. If he can keep his average up and continue to hit for power, then he will put himself in line for a nice contract at the end of the season. Right now, I'm not sold on Branyan over the final two months of the season. i don't think he'll be able to perform at an elite level like he did over the first two months of the season, but I don't think he'll completely bottom out, especially with Adrian Beltre returning to the lineup.
When you take into account that Branyan is 33 years old and is putting up big time numbers for the first time in his career, there will be team shying away from him and skeptical about his performance. But it only takes one team for Branyan to get paid and if he wants the big bucks, then the next two months will be HUGE for him.