The Blue Jays Should Go To WAR With Russell Branyan

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The Blue Jays Should Go To WAR With Russell Branyan
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At some point in the very near future the Toronto Blue Jays will start reporting to camp, managers and players will get interviewed, various players will have their health accessed and reported on, and actually games of baseball will be played by Major League players for the first time in what seems like an eternity. Until then, we'll keep having fun kicking around trade rumors and discussing even the smallest of subjects surrounding the team.

The biggest topic of discussion this week has been where to play Jose Bautista in 2011. This situation not being resolved is the largest reason why the Jays keep getting linked to Michael Young—the only apparent third baseman available—over and over. That was covered, here, as not being the worst option in the world under a large set of circumstances.

There is a much better and cheaper option out there and his name is Russell Branyan. Before you decide to stop reading, this is not a recommendation that Branyan play third or right field or any position on the field. The Jays should bring him in purely as the teams' primary DH on a one year contract latent with incentive based raises tied to his number of trips to the plate.

Bringing Branyan on would put Edwin Encarnacion at third base, Bautista in right and Juan Rivera on the bench. Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports pointed out yesterday the Jays are interested in moving Rivera and his 5.3 million dollar contract, which only passes for news the week before spring training. Of course, they would want to move him but it's unlikely the Jays will find a taker for him. And because they have Rivera's contract as a trade off for saving 70 million dollars in the Vernon Wells trade, Alex Anthopoulos isn't going to lose any sleep.

Getting back on track, signing Branyan sounds like a good idea in theory but would he really increase the Jays' overall production from the three spots in question? In short, yes he would, but coming to that conclusion involves quite a bit of projecting and guesswork. Let's have at it.

The easiest way to compare the three different scenarios of how the Jays could arrange the three positions is by WAR totals. But there are no fWAR (f denotes FanGraphs version of WAR) totals to look at for 2011, a season that has yet to take place. We do however have several projections of what each player will do offensively in 2011 and Tom Tango's Marcels system will be used today.

But we're looking for a complete contribution, not just offense. With that in mind each player will have a rough estimate of how good or bad their defense figures to be in 2011 based on their past UZR/150 numbers. In the table below you'll see the rest of the data needed to project fWAR. Everything is based off 150 defensive games played and 600 plate appearances.

The RRuns category is replacement level runs (this assumes the average replacement player is worth -20 runs below average per 600 PA which is added to a player's net runs above average), bRAA is batting runs above average and fRAA is fielding runs above average, RAR is runs above replacement and WAR is WAR. This chart will look almost exactly like FanGraphs player value charts and that's intentional.

Player Position bRAA fRAA RRuns Pos. Adj. RAR WAR
Jose Bautista 3B 19.5 -9 20 2.5 33 3.3
Jose Bautista RF 19.5 -4 20 -7.5 28 2.8
Juan Rivera RF 0 3 20 -7.5 15.5 1.6
Juan Rivera DH 0 0 20 -17.5 2.5 0.3
Edwin Encarnacion 3B 6.3 -8 20 2.5 20.8 2.1
Edwin Encarnacion DH 6.3 0 20 -17.5 8.8 0.9
Russell Branyan DH 10.2 0 20 -17.5 12.7 1.3
Scenario One   25.8 -6 60 -22.5 57.3 5.7
Scenario Two   25.8 -12 60 -22.5 51.3 5.1
Scenario Three   36 -12 60 -22.5 61.5 6.2

A couple of notes, Rivera is listed here as right fielder but has more experience in left and Snider would probably shift to right if Rivera was in the field. However, the position adjustment for left and right field is -7.5 runs for both and Rivera has good arm numbers from UZR and whether he plays right or left figures to have little difference in his +3 defensive rating in the chart. He was listed as a RF to attempt to keep things simple, relatively speaking.

Also, can't stress enough that the most volatile of the above is the fielding numbers. Those were not projected by Marcels, and are literally educated guesses. The validity of how educated is certainly a topic for debate, but unless they turn out to be widely off they should have little effect on the conclusions discussed below.

Before we go over the scenarios, it's clear that even if Bautista is worse defensively at third than in right, it'd have to be by a pretty large margin—more than the five runs here— for that to sink his overall value at third down to his expected value in right field. Also, Marcels is much harsher with Bautista's expected offense than Bill James' projections.

What also becomes clear is Rivera looks to be a horrible option at DH, he's the worst of the four hitters up there by a safe margin. It's no surprise then that Scenario Two checks in as the worst of the three. That scenario has Bautista in right, Encarnacion at third and Rivera at DH. Moving the three in-house guys around to put Bautista at third, Encarnacion at DH and Rivera in right gives us the 5.7 fWAR in scenario one.

Scenario Three maximizes Encarnacion's production by putting him at third where, even with his defense, he projects to be a league average player. It also puts Branyan, whose bat winds up being worth 1.3 fWAR, at DH, easily besting what would be expected of either Encarnacion (.9 fWAR) or Rivera (.3 fWAR) in that role.

In terms of how much would be reasonable to pay Branyan, the going rate for 1.3 fWAR on the open market this winter was about 6.5 million dollars. At this point in the off-season he would surely come for less than that, hate to speculate because how much he's looking for isn't known, but maybe three million with a couple million in incentives would get him in.

Bringing in Branyan also has several other benefits. It moves Rivera to the bench and gives Encarnacion every chance to go out and have a career year at an age were he'd be reasonably expected to do so. It's important for the Jays to see as much of him this year as they can to see if he's going to fit into their long term plans or not. This would also put Bautista in right field, which could be looked at as a negative and probably is in terms of pure value.

But Tom Dakers at Blue Bird Banter has a theory about Bautista in right field that makes a lot of sense:

It has always been my feeling that you put your star players in a spot and leave them there and move the other guys around to accommodate the stars. Put your star in one spot, make him as comfortable as possible and leave them there. Jose clearly was our offensive star last year.

The question is, why move him around each year? He seems more comfortable in right. He seems to hit best when he plays the position more. But most importantly, he is the star, don't move him around.

All told if you put any value in projections and WAR and so on, it's clear Branyan solves a whole host of problems for the Jays. Both in short term production and with long term decisions, the team will have to make choices with Bautista and Encarnacion that will influence the team beyond Branyan's time in a Jays uniform. If the rumors linking the Jays to either Manny Ramirez or Vlad Guerrero had any validity to them, there's reason to think this signing could happen.

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