Mariners Insider Blog

And the first free agent is ..... Russell Branyan. (UPDATED with contract info).

The Mariners first free agent signing is third baseman/hitter Russell Branyan.

UPDATE (2:10 p.m.) -- according to the AP, it's a one-year contract for $1.4 million. There is also $500,000 in performance based bonuses, including a $250,000 bonus for more than 200 plate appearances.

"Russell gives us a veteran left-handed bat with power and can be used as a first baseman, third baseman or designated hitter," said Zduriencik. "One of our off-season goals is to add some left-handed power to our club. The addition of Russell accomplished some of that."

It's far from signing Manny Ramirez in terms of making a big splash. Branyan was once considered a hot prospect in the Indians organization, only there was one small problem, he had a tendency to swing and miss - a lot.

He has 797 strikeouts in 2000 career major league at bats, meaning he strikes at least once in every three at-bats. He also has 133 home runs. He has a career OPS of .813.

Zduriencik knows Branyan pretty well since Branyan spent last season in the Brewers organization, starting off in the minor leagues and then joining the big club in the second half of last season.

Branyan can hit a fastball. I watched him hit a 96-mile per hour fastball from Phillippe Aumont about 450 feet during a minor league spring training game. But it's the pitches that break a little bit that seem to give him some trouble.

He can hit with power, mammoth power, but I don't know if he's an every day player. He's never proven to be one so far in his career.

But he's a low risk investment, the Sporting News' Ryan Fagan summed it up nicely in calling Branyan "a bargain" when breaking down the free agent third baseman out there.

Russell Branyan. The key with Branyan is not to expect extended runs of production. When he's hot, he can carry a team with exceptional displays of power. Then in the inevitable downturn, he'll look absolutely lost at the plate. He had a 17-game stretch for the Brewers early this year in which he hit .314 with 10 homers and 17 RBIs; in the next 17 games, he hit .170 with 1 homer and 2 RBIs. At 33, he is what he is. If he's cheap, he's worth a shot.

If you look lower in his story, Fagan also deemed Willie Bloomquist as a "potential bust." Take that at what you will.

Here's the release from the Mariners.

MARINERS SIGN FREE AGENT RUSSELL BRANYAN TO CONTRACT

Veteran left-handed power hitter has hit 133 career Major League home runs.

SEATTLE, Wash. -- Seattle Mariners Executive Vice President & General Manager of Baseball Operations Jack Zduriencik announced today that the club has signed free agent infielder Russell Branyan to a one-year contract. Per club policy, terms of the contract were not disclosed.

"Russell gives us a veteran left-handed bat with power and can be used as a first baseman, third baseman or designated hitter," said Zduriencik. "One of our off-season goals is to add some left-handed power to our club. The addition of Russell accomplished some of that."

Branyan, 32 (turns 33 Dec. 19), is a veteran of 11 Major League seasons, last playing with the Milwaukee Brewers in 2008. In 50 games with the Brewers last season, Branyan batted .250 (33x132) with 8 doubles, 12 home runs and 20 RBI. In his first month with the Brewers (May-June), Branyan combined to bat .276 (24x87) with 15 runs scored, 5 doubles, 11 home runs and 18 RBI in 29 games. He started the season with Nashville (AAA), batting .359 (55x153) with 12 homers and 36 RBI in 45 games with the Sounds prior to being called up on May 25.

In 50 games, Branyan made 35 starts (3B - 33, 1B - 2) and hit .455 (5x11) with 2 home runs as a pinch-hitter. Among National League players with at least 10 plate appearances as a pinch-hitter, Branyan ranked fourth in batting average and tied for second in home runs. He missed over a month of the season with a right oblique strain (Aug. 13-Sept. 23) and did not make the Brewers post-season roster.

In 11 seasons in the Majors, Branyan has a career batting average of .230 with 133 home runs and 320 RBI in 766 games. He has played for the Cleveland Indians (1998-2002), Cincinnati Reds (2002-03), Milwaukee Brewers (2004-05, 2008), Tampa Bay Rays (2006), San Diego Padres (2006-07), Philadelphia Phillies (2007) and St. Louis Cardinals (2007). Over the last three seasons, Branyan has suited up in five different Major League uniforms.

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