Reading the tea-leaves of Pravda

Mike Snow · January 13, 2010 at 2:54 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

When it manages to avoid cliche, sports journalism can be fascinating, both for the lines and the space between them. One of the challenges of that, of course, is knowing when the real story is what it appears on its face, and when it’s something a bit different. Because sometimes the players in the media-industrial complex collaborate in this process more to serve their own needs than for the purpose of informing us, as consumers of the news. Sometimes it helps to ask yourself, not just why is this newsworthy, or even why the reporter thought it was newsworthy, but why somebody wanted it to be newsworthy. This can be difficult in stories where much of the information is based on “sources close to the negotiations” or “clubhouse insiders” who remain anonymous, and you’re left to speculate about identities as well as motives. (Most of the foregoing naturally applies to all journalism, read with a critical eye, not just sports.)

With that in mind, consider the latest from Jim Street, “Branyan ready to move on from Mariners.” On the surface, it’s providing concrete, from-the-horse’s-mouth confirmation of something that started becoming clear a week ago, and a conclusion others have already written about, namely that Branyan will not be back with the team this year. Now, getting it confirmed may be worth running a story on its own, but there’s more to it than that.

For example, why does the otherwise leakproof, never-tip-our-hand regime suddenly have Wakamatsu out there being quoted on the record to “wish him the best” and talk about Branyan in the past tense? After all, we know they’re not done with the roster, and could theoretically still have interest even if Branyan doesn’t make much sense with Kotchman/Bradley/Griffey around. (They didn’t put this kind of effort into downplaying Bay-to-Seattle rumors, when those made about the same amount of sense.) The story touches on some other things we knew:

  • Branyan wanted to come back to Seattle
  • Branyan wanted a multiyear contract
  • The Mariners offered a one-year deal with an option
  • Branyan didn’t take the offer
  • The team had no problem with him going out on the market to see if someone else would give him more security
  • Other teams seem to evaluate the risk similarly, and no such deal has been forthcoming

Just about everybody in baseball assumed that Branyan would ultimately come back when he realized the long-term deal wasn’t out there. He did have those 31 homers and showed he could hit lefthanders, so he definitely has value, the issue is the risk with his back. We learn here that other teams do have some interest in Branyan, but apparently have yet to make him an offer. And why would they, if the expectation is that he would turn around and take the same deal from the Mariners instead? But as it happens, Zduriencik has moved on and Branyan is left in limbo.

The real reason for this story, it would seem, is that Branyan can’t get another team to actually make an offer, even for just a one-year deal, without it being clear that his Mariner ties are severed. So as a parting courtesy, the team cooperates in getting out the message to that effect.


48 Responses to “Reading the tea-leaves of Pravda”

  1. Xteve X on January 13th, 2010 3:22 pm

    Exactly how I read it … Branyan’s agent is trying to get a one year offer from anyone at this point, and nobody is biting since they think Seattle would likely match most one-year deals.

    So by severing ties with the M’s publically Branyan’s agent could now conduct negotiations that previously he might not have been able to.

    Still don’t think any team is going to offer Branyan a multi-year deal, but I guess you never know.

  2. ivan on January 13th, 2010 3:26 pm

    Nice work, Mike. This is why I read USS Mariner at least once a day, every day.

  3. coasty141 on January 13th, 2010 3:46 pm

    Ditto. Thanks for the insight.

  4. Liam on January 13th, 2010 4:09 pm

    Isn’t this the job his agent is supposed to be doing?

  5. Leroy Stanton on January 13th, 2010 4:19 pm

    Mike, I liked your article. I don’t think I’ve read one of yours before. You have a really enjoyable style of writing. I hope we see more.

    However, I disagree with your conclusion. I really don’t think any team expected the M’s to sign Branyan after the Kotchman deal. And LaRoche and Delgado are still available, not to mention Ryan Garko, who is a better fit for the M’s. Branyan’s problem is one of supply and demand, not anything to do with the Mariners.

    For a team coming off a 100 loss season, Branyan was a perfect choice last year. But, as a pennant contender, I don’t think the M’s wanted someone who has been so inconsistent throughout his career as the starting first baseman. He is a feast-or-famine type hitter who, at the right price, would make a fine bench player. I think the offer JackZ made to Branyan probably reflected that reality.

    The writing was on the wall and now it’s official. I think that’s all the story was about.

  6. coasty141 on January 13th, 2010 4:36 pm

    “He is a feast-or-famine type hitter who, at the right price, would make a fine bench player”

    The dude was worth 2.8 WAR in 2009. That is a pretty fine bench player.

  7. SeasonTix on January 13th, 2010 4:42 pm

    Would the M’s take Branyan back if he’s willing to finally swallow his pride and take a CHEAP one year deal?

  8. Leroy Stanton on January 13th, 2010 4:50 pm

    The dude was worth 2.8 WAR in 2009

    And Aubrey Huff was worth 4.2 WAR in ’08 and -1.1 in ’09, hence the term feast-or-famine. And Branyan was well into his famine phase in ’09.

  9. SeasonTix on January 13th, 2010 4:51 pm

    Actually, after thinking about this a little more I don’t think Branyan makes much sense at any price at this point. “Premature posting” … sorry about that.

  10. Mike Snow on January 13th, 2010 4:51 pm

    Isn’t this the job his agent is supposed to be doing?

    His agent may have advised him that this is what he needs to do to create a market for himself. Advice and assistance with negotiations are the primary responsibilities for agents. Even though agents sometimes act as the spokesperson, sometimes people prefer to speak for themselves. They may be more comfortable with it or it can be a strategy to humanize things more, there are lots of possible reasons.

  11. coasty141 on January 13th, 2010 5:29 pm

    “And Branyan was well into his famine phase in ‘09”

    I guess I’m not familar with “famine phrase”. Does it apply to any TTO hitter who is over a certain age?

  12. Liam on January 13th, 2010 5:32 pm

    How do Jim Street and Geoff Baker fit into all this?

  13. Leroy Stanton on January 13th, 2010 5:42 pm

    I guess I’m not familar with “famine phrase”. Does it apply to any TTO hitter who is over a certain age?

    I said famine phase. What is TTO?

  14. coasty141 on January 13th, 2010 5:59 pm

    Sorry, I’ll restate that… I guess I’m not familiar with the “famine phase”

    TTO= Three true outcomes. HR, Walk, K guys. Carlos Pena, Cust, McGwire, Branyan, etc

  15. Leroy Stanton on January 13th, 2010 6:04 pm

    I guess I’m not familar with “famine phrase”. Does it apply to any TTO hitter who is over a certain age?

    So, I looked up TTO. Three True Outcomes: HR’s, K’s, and BB’s.

    I meant he was slumping badly:

    Jul: .159/.262/.375
    Aug: .206/.293/.734

    He seems to do that a lot. I don’t know if it applies to all TTO hitters, but I suspect it does if the K outcome is disproportionate to the other outcomes.

  16. snapper on January 13th, 2010 6:16 pm

    Wouldn’t the M’s be a substantially better team with Branyan at 1B than Kotchman? Just from FanGraphs the projections have Branyan in the .350-.360 wOBA range vs. ~.330 for Kotchman, and Kotchman seems to be <5 runs better at 1B.

    That said, why not sign Branyan and try and trade Kotchman. If you can't, you can always release Kotchman in Spring Training for 30 or 45 days pay, depending on the release date.

  17. Jeff Nye on January 13th, 2010 6:21 pm

    The substantially higher injury risk isn’t worth it on the roster as currently constructed.

  18. Breadbaker on January 13th, 2010 6:25 pm

    We find ourselves in the odd position, having gotten Kotchman and thus being loaded with lefties who can play first or DH, of looking to replace, essentially, Bill Hall right now as a right-handed utility player. I wonder what the Royals would ask for Willie Bloomquist?

  19. heyoka on January 13th, 2010 6:33 pm

    “sources close to the negotiations” or “clubhouse insiders”

    the DeepThroat of sports!

    -the man behind the curtain, the Wizard of BasebOZ.

  20. snapper on January 13th, 2010 6:40 pm

    The substantially higher injury risk isn’t worth it on the roster as currently constructed.

    Really? I think the risk is well worth taking to get Branyan’s bat into the cleanup spot.

    The difference between Kotchman and Carp isn’t so great as to punt the upside with Branyan.

  21. NODO Dweller on January 13th, 2010 6:58 pm

    That’s assuming there is upside still there. A herniated disc isn’t exactly a strained calf muscle. There’s a pretty significant chance the Branyan that comes back more closely resembles his second half than his first half just due to lingering effects…

  22. Mekias on January 13th, 2010 7:01 pm

    A healthy Branyan would almost certainly be better than Kotchman but as we saw last year, if his back is bothering him, Branyan just isn’t good. A bad back will hurt almost any athlete but for a guy who swings like Branyan, it’s gotta be even more painful.

    That being said, I’d pay him $2 million for 2010 as long as I got a promise from him to tell Wak anytime his back acts up. Russ still thinks he can get more than that and I don’t blame him but I’m not sure how realistic that is.

  23. joser on January 13th, 2010 7:39 pm

    Zduriencik clearly thinks Kotchman has some upside potential as well (as do the projections) — maybe not back to his 2007, but more than the last couple of years…especially if he can do something about his BABIP. Kotchman is also a better fielder. Kotchman’s wOBA in 2007 was .362, almost as good as Branyan’s .368 in 2009, so the difference between the two is not as great as it might appear if Kotchman happens to have a good year.

    And then you have the potential for injury. Kotchman isn’t likely to get mono again, whereas Branyan could have a disc rupture and put him on the 60 day DL at any time. Or it could just nag at him and sap his power and leave him with a less productive season than an average Kotchman one.

    All in all, if you’re going to gamble on Kotchman having a good season vs Branyan not having a season-ending injury, I know where I’d put my chips and they wouldn’t be on the guy with the bad back. I like Branyan, and I loved those towering dingers, but with Griffey and Bradley and Wilson all likely to be sitting out at one point or another I just can’t see the FO ratcheting up the risk another notch.

  24. PBS on January 13th, 2010 8:27 pm

    I agree w/ above that this is a very insightful, I definitely enjoyed reading it.

    As someone who enjoyed watching Branyan last year, I’m bummed that he effectively priced himself out of a job. I’m not really arguing that a player shouldn’t try to get the most out of every contract, but isn’t there something to be said for being happy?

    Branyan was happy here, and if he would accepted a 1 yr, reasonable salary early in free agency, he probably would’ve been the M’s starting 1B Opening Day. Isn’t that opportunity worth more to someone who has made a lot of money in MLB already, but is finally getting his best shot to play everyday at age 33?

    Anyway, I think when he looks back at this, in retrospect, he would have taken whatever the Mariners were offering, and not priced himself out of his own job.

  25. diderot on January 13th, 2010 9:19 pm

    The substantially higher injury risk isn’t worth it on the roster as currently constructed.

    Actually, it’s worse than that. It’s not an ‘injury risk’–it’s an injury.

    I have no idea what it’s like to compete at the major league level. But I do know firsthand what it’s like to try to play baseball competitively with a slipped disc.

    Assuming proper stretching and therapy, there is a good chance you could wake up in the morning feeling fine. There is also the chance that you won’t be able to get out of bed. Literally. And there are variations at every step in between. There is no way to predict.

    Discs don’t heal themselves (aside from early traction treatment, or injection of certain substances). But even with a successful temporary outcome, they often recur. The only proven answer is a laminectomy, but if Branyan had elected that, he would then be a guy in his mid-30’s with a ‘back surgery’ on his resume, rather than just a back injury.

    Couple that with the typical advice to avoid violent movements, and Branyan was probably cooked–can anyone remember Mariner who ever swung harder?

    So my guess is that the M’s were willing to roll the dice for one year…but two would be just ridiculous. And to my recollection, Branyan had absolutely no success once he suffered the injury. So there’s little reason to believe he could ever reliably recover his first half form without the surgery.

    It sucks for him…but I assume there isn’t a bottomless pit of payroll.

  26. bookbook on January 13th, 2010 9:29 pm

    We need to be a little careful about overstating the herniated disc thingy. Above the age of 30, there aren’t a lot of humans who won’t show some degree of herniation on an mri. The drawbacks of walking upright and all that (100,000 yrs isn’t enough time for evolution to iron out the kinks, especially for diseases that tend to occur after reproduction).

    I get that his problem is that he’s not only herniated but also symptomatic. There’s quite a bit of muscle work that most people can do to alleviate back pain. If Branyan weren’t planning to try and jerk a baseball over a wall 400 feet away, the back wouldn’t be such a big deal. Even so, I bet he’ll be capable of putting together a productive 400 ABs or so in 2010. I wouldn’t want my own millions on the line for this bet, but I think he’ll help a team this year.

  27. mattlock on January 13th, 2010 10:10 pm

    I wonder what the Royals would ask for Willie Bloomquist?

    Wow, I sincerely hope this is sarcasm.

    No WFB for me, thanks, even if I AM from Bremerton.

  28. Paul on January 13th, 2010 10:16 pm

    Another message being sent here is Zduriencik is not going to leave an offer on the table for very long. The M’s are going make a fair offer and if it isn’t acted on they are looking at a lot of other ways to improve. So if you have an offer from the M’s you better not spend too long shopping it around because they are going to find another way to solve the problem that doesn’t involve you.

  29. diderot on January 13th, 2010 10:40 pm

    There’s quite a bit of muscle work that most people can do to alleviate back pain.

    But you’re not saying that ‘back pain’ is synonymous with a herniated disc, right?

    By the same token, yes, there are degrees of herniation…and obviously we don’t know his specific diagnosis. But if the herniation impacts the sciatic, then really all bets are off.

  30. eric on January 14th, 2010 12:15 am

    As someone who has had two back surgeries for herniated discs here is my 2 cents:

    Herniated discs can vary in degree a lot, they can start our fairly minor and get worse over time. And they really never go away on their own, you may never get so bad that you need surgery but I doubt you’d be able to perform as an pro athlete with even a moderately bad one. Exercise and so on is just making it less noticeable but it isn’t solving anything. By the way Matt Hasslebeck is in a similar situation as Branyan which is why the Hawks probably shouldn’t count on ever getting a full healthy season out of him again.

    With hindsight I think mine probably started in my mid 20s, symptoms would flare up every few months and a little stretching made things seem fine. When I started to really have symptoms at 40 I was to the point of severe pain and needing surgery within a couple months.

  31. Slam on January 14th, 2010 8:06 am

    Obviously this year the M’s theme is defense and pitching. Well, if thats the case, why do we have Jose Lopez at 2nd?

    He is peaking in his career right now. Lets trade him for his highest value! Branyan was one of my favorite players last year, but you’re no good if you are sitting on the bench.

  32. Banton on January 14th, 2010 8:44 am

    As someone who enjoyed watching Branyan last year, I’m bummed that he effectively priced himself out of a job.

    I don’t think that it is a case of Branyan pricing himself out of a job. I think that the team made a valid offer for what they believed was reasonable, based on what was available for contention at the time As more players, both via FA and trade, became available, the FO then continued to tweak the the team for 2010 based on what each addition/subtraction required. Had Branyan been the only “risk” other than Wilson, they probably would not have gone after Kotchman. This is borne out by the fact that we are now looking for a utility player that is both INF/OUT capable. Good teams can change on the fly; and someone always ends up without a chair. Even if Branyan called Z and said “I’ll take the original offer that you made”, that ship has sailed. It isn’t about the money-it’s about team needs.

  33. Arron on January 14th, 2010 9:47 am

    Add Arizona as a team that Branyan won’t be playing for…Heyman says they are signing LaRoche for a one-year deal worth 4-5 mil.

    LaRoche wanted (supposedly) 3 years at 30 mil and is settling for 1 at 5? If LaRoche couldn’t get a multi-year deal, there is NO WAY Branyan and his bad back do.

    This sucks for The Muscle…after a break-out year, his body fails him. He’s gotta be so disappointed.

  34. Andy Weber on January 14th, 2010 10:05 am

    Couple that with the typical advice to avoid violent movements, and Branyan was probably cooked–can anyone remember Mariner who ever swung harder?

    @diderot How about Jeffrey Leonard?

  35. Seattleken on January 14th, 2010 10:21 am

    Kotchman/Hall, 7 million and a PNL deal is now looking worse with LaRoche signing for about the same as what Kotchman will get in arb.

    I sure hope the Mariners traditional scouting is right about Kotchman being able to put his expected numbers of three years ago as he will to have to hit .295/375/435 to be worth the 2 WAR that LaRoche is.

  36. joser on January 14th, 2010 10:55 am

    Maybe Arizona will be out of it by the trading deadline and the M’s can pick up LaRoche for his perennial torrid second half. I don’t know his deal is, but the guy is like Bloomquist through June and then turns into Edgar for the rest of the year.

  37. Briggstar on January 14th, 2010 11:20 am

    …can anyone remember [a] Mariner who ever swung harder?

    Danny Tartabull and Jay Buhner would be right up there, but Russell the Muscle was never cheated on a swing.

    I followed his career bouncing through the Milwaukees and Clevelands of the world and wondered why he was never given an everyday spot. This guy could always mash, but his best years may be behind him now.

    ps: I’d like to see more stuff from you as well, Mike. Keep up the good work, fellers.

  38. robbbbbb on January 14th, 2010 12:20 pm

    …can anyone remember [a] Mariner who ever swung harder?

    Richie Zisk. (Yeah, I’m burnishing my old-school credentials.) If you want a hard-swinger who was good, then there’s Jay Buhner.

  39. Leroy Stanton on January 14th, 2010 12:37 pm

    Steve Balboni.

  40. TumwaterMike on January 14th, 2010 12:45 pm

    …can anyone remember [a] Mariner who ever swung harder?

    My favorite…Bucky Jacobsen. My votes for Bye Bye Balboni also.

  41. Briggstar on January 14th, 2010 3:59 pm

    Also up for consideration: Stormin’ Gorman Thomas, the late Ivan Calderon and “The HacMan” Jeffrey Leonard.

  42. rodzilla on January 14th, 2010 6:50 pm

    Did anyone else catch the “he experienced what he termed “a slight setback” in rehabilitation” quote in Baker’s article? And would that have had any impact on the Branyan decision?

  43. Breadbaker on January 14th, 2010 8:44 pm

    My favorite part of this: never having to hear “Living in a Small Town” ever again.

  44. noproblempablo on January 15th, 2010 4:13 pm


  45. Briggstar on January 16th, 2010 12:40 am

    It was interesting to read that Branyan considers himself fully healthy and rearing to go. Some posturing with no contract, I’m sure, but is he just underestimating the gravity of his injuries, or are wejust overestimating them?

  46. joser on January 16th, 2010 10:29 am

    He indeed could be entirely healthy right now and be that way for part of the season… right up until he blows a disc and is literally unable to lift a bat or even stand. That might not happen this season, or it might happen in the first week. That’s the problem: he’s going to offer a lot of value right up to the point when he suddenly no longer offers any value at all. So you’re gambling on when that point arrives, whether he’s already earned his contract before that point, and whether you have a reasonable backup plan for when he goes on the 60 day DL (if your season even matters at that point). On a team recovering from a 100 loss season without a lot of other injury risks, that’s a reasonable gamble. On a team that has two CY-level pitchers for one year and is trying to contend in that year, and has a bunch of other injury risks, it’s a bad gamble.

  47. Jill4223 on January 17th, 2010 11:10 am

    Thanks for the insight. I for one would like to see him back if for nothing more than his leadership in the club house. There was a distinct improvement last year with both him and Junior but wouldn’t it be nice for one more year.

  48. PBS on January 18th, 2010 9:18 pm


Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.