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Russell Branyan? Really??


   Upon hearing of ESPN.com's Jayson Stark report about the Marlins offering a contract to first baseman Russell Branyan, my immediate thought was, "You mean Mike Jacobs isn't still available?" Branyan is a left-handed hitter with wallop, but one who also strikes out often and doesn't stand out defensively. According to Stark's report, the Marlins are interested in Branyan as a left-handed bat off the bench and insurance in case they decide rookie first basemen Gaby Sanchez and Logan Morrison aren't up to snuff. The Marlins might also be thinking of having the veteran Branyan share first base duties with a younger understudy, either Sanchez or Morrison.

    In typical Marlins style, according to Stark, the team has offered Branyan a 1-year deal that is low on base pay and heavy on performance incentives. That's smart, considering Branyan has back issues.

    Branyan certainly isn't the reincarnation of Ross Gload. Gload was a pinch-hitting monster for the Marlins last season. He led the majors in pinch hits and was a fielding upgrade at first who was often used as a late-inning defensive replacement. The NL champion Phillies recognized Gload's talents and outbid the Marlins for him over the winter.

  Branyan? He has a career pinch-hitting average of .165 and is an average to below-average fielder at first. He swung a hefty stick with the Seattle Mariners last season, belting 31 home runs. But he was a strike out victim more than a third of the time. By comparison, Dan Uggla struck out ONLY 26.5 percent of the time with the Marlins in '09.

 So if the Marlins are to sign Branyan, are they thinking of him as a bench player who stinks as a pinch-hitter? Or are they thinking of him as a starter who comes with defensive liabilities, as well as an excessively high whiff rate?

  To be fair, I spoke with a scout who thought Branyan made sense for the Marlins.

 "If he's healthy, he can play darn near every day and would allow you to take time with Logan Morrison's development," the scout said. "I'm a huge Gaby Sanchez fan. I like the kid. I respect him. But he's the backside of a first base platoon. I like the Branyan offer."

  I just don't see it. Larry Beinfest has said before that he would prefer his bench players be able to play multiple positions. Branyan is your basic corner stiff. Beinfest also doesn't care for swing-and-miss guys, which is why Preston Wilson, Miguel Olivo and Mike Jacobs didn't stick around for very long under his watch.

  Branyan does one thing well: hit for power. But he doesn't hit lefties, strikes out a ton, and hasn't been successful off the bench. He has played more than 100 games in only three seasons since breaking into the majors in 1998.

  If the Marlins wind up with this guy, I'll be surprised.

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