Russell Branyan is returning to the Mariners. The Indians sent the slugger to Seattle for minor leaguers Ezequiel Carrera and Juan Diaz in a surprising trade, according to MLB.com's Anthony Castrovince. The Mariners will pay the remaining money owed to Branyan this season (approximately $1.1MM), while the Indians figure to pick up the buyout for Branyan's $5MM mutual option, tweets Castrovince. If the Mariners and Branyan exercise the option, the Indians will be off the hook financially, but will send the M's a player to be named later.
The Mariners are 31-43, far removed from contention even after today's win in Milwaukee. Despite their recent hot streak, few expected the M's to trade minor leaguers for big league talent. Instead, the Mariners seemed likely to shop Cliff Lee, who appeared to be available for the right offer. Tonight's trade doesn't mean the Mariners won't listen to offers for Lee. The move could impact the team's 2011 roster, considering Branyan's mutual option for next year.
After hitting 31 homers for the Mariners last year, Branyan considered re-signing in Seattle and ultimately rejected a one-year deal with a club option for 2011. The back problems that sidelined Branyan at the end of 2009 limited interest last winter and he went on to sign a one-year, $2MM deal with the Tribe.
Branyan rewarded the Indians for their investment with ten homers and a .262/.328/.488 line. That's much more production than the Mariners have received from their first basemen, who have hit .195/.279/.295 as a group, with five homers. The Indians, meanwhile, create space for Matt LaPorta by moving Branyan.
Not only do the Indians make room for LaPorta, they add Carrera, a 23-year-old outfielder who the Mariners acquired in the J.J. Putz deal, and Diaz, a 21-year-old shortstop. Baseball America ranked Carrera 15th among Mariners prospects before the season and explained that his speed, defense and pesky approach point to a future as a valuable reserve. Diaz, not considered one of the Mariners' top prospects pre-season, has a .779 OPS in A ball this year.