Should he stay or should he go? That's the question of the day, because it's the 25th, and the Diamondbacks have to come to a decision as to whether or not Russell Branyan is going to be part of their Opening Day roster. If not, Branyan can opt out and become a free-agent, seeking alternative employment with another team. On the one hand, Branyan has had an excellent spring with the bat, leading the team in most offensive categories. On the other, it's only spring, there's still questions about his defense - and do we really need yet another left-handed first-baseman?
Over the past three seasons, Branyan has been one of the most under-rated "pure" sluggers in the majors. Since 2008, he's among the top 25 by slugging percentage (min. 1,000 PAs), posting a .515; for context, Paul Konerko is at .508. During the same time-period, only one major-leaguer, again with 1,000 PAs, has a better AB:HR ratio than Branyan's 13.81 - some guy called Albert Pujols (13.33). So if you want someone with a good chance of knocking the ball out of the park, you won't do much better than Russell the Muscle.
Now, obviously, that's not the entire story. Branyan's value is decreased by several factors, which help explain why Arizona are his seventh team since the start of 2006. Firstly, there is his mediocre on-base number: while mashing the ball out of the part, his OBP was only .337, only marginally above the MLB average (.325 last year). He has also suffered from poor health, having spent a total of 102 days on the disabled list in the previous three years, mostly due to a herniated disc in his back. He also a bad defensive reputation, something which was a question mark against Branyan coming into camp.
He seemed to live up to that initially. Earlier in the month, Kevin Towers said that, Kirk Gibson had discussed with Branyan the need for him to improve with the glove: "The defense is very important to us, too, and I think Russell understands that. It's not just how you swing the bat, we've got to catch the ball too." However, as Branyan continued to display his offensive power, the tone changed. It first became, "His defense needs to improve, but we're trying to put our best lineup out there," and is now, "His defense has gotten a lot better over the last two weeks." I can't speak to that - I'm probably dazzled by the batting line of .457/.519/.783.
It will cost the team $2 million if they want to retain the services of Branyan, and it would seem probable that's what they are going to do. Exactly how they use him from that point is less certain: as primary first-baseman Juan Miranda is also left-handed, the platoon option there would seem kinda pointless. While Branyan has played more games at third-base than any other spot, and he'd fit with the right-handed Melvin Mora, he hasn't seen any time there since 2008, and I don't believe he has been tried significantly at the hot corner this spring.
I would lean towards a role like the one played in 2007 by Tony Clark, who appeared in 113 games for the NL West champion Diamondbacks, but only started 43 of those. But if he continues to hit anything like he had done during the Cactus League, a way certainly needs to be found to get his bat into the line-up.