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Geoff Baker covers the Mariners for The Seattle Times. He provides daily coverage of the team throughout spring training, and during the season.

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December 4, 2008 8:25 AM

Thoughts on Branyan, Griffey

Posted by Geoff Baker

griffey_zoom.jpg

Just got done with a special segment on KJR AM 950 with host Mitch Levy, where he asked me for my thoughts on Russell Branyan and Ken Griffey Jr. They both tie in to one another in a way. It's all a question of where they fit with this team moving forward. As some of you have already mentioned, they are similar hitters in that both would be a risk of sorts. Griffey is on the downside of his career, while Branyan has never played an entire season. Both are in their 30s and look like they would be stop-gap solutions for a developing club.

All that is true.

But here's the thing. With Branyan, the risk is very small. The M's are on the hook to him for $1.4 million, or $1.9 million if he performs the way they hope.

At the very least, Branyan is a serious upgrade over former backup first and third baseman Miguel Cairo in the hitting department. He is also a power upgrade over Bryan LaHair, the guy who finished last season as the everyday first baseman. Maybe not long-term. But until LaHair hits for better power, Branyan has to be viewed as an upgrade.

Now, any GM looking to make this team better has to factor those last two points into the equation when looking at whether to add Griffey to this team.

The first part is simple. Griffey will only be a small risk if the Mariners can sign him to a similar, incentives-laden deal where not a whole lot of money is guaranteed. A couple of years ago, Jose Guillen was signed by Seattle to a $5.5 million deal for the 2007 season, with incentives that took it up to $9 million when he actually produced. He now makes $12 million a year as a guy who proved he could still hit.

Guillen then was much younger than Griffey is now. So, cut those Guillen contract numbers from 2007 in half and you'd get a good base point for where to go with Griffey. Maybe $2 million or $3 million guaranteed, with incentives that could perhaps double that if he hits some power targets. Anything much more, and the team should take a pass because the risk becomes greater. Why take on too much risk in a rebuilding year?

That done, you come to the more difficult factor that has to be weighed. Is Griffey an upgrade over what the team currently has? Is he enough of an upgrade to give him playing time over developing players?

Zduriencik has said he wants until the end of next week to get a better handle on his team before moving ahead with any Griffey plans. Here's what is going to happen between now and then.

On Sunday, Raul Ibanez will either accept or reject the team's arbitration offer. If he rejects it, as is expected, the team will almost certainly lose its biggest power bat of the past three seasons. And don't forget, this is a team that -- even with Ibanez -- is one of the worst in the majors power-wise.

But the team has to wait and see what Ibanez does. If he pulls a stunner and accepts arbitration, the team would have him for the 2009 season. Zduriencik's needs in the short-term would be a little less urgent. They would still be there in the long-term, but his current shopping list would likely change. With Branyan aboard as a stop-gap/experiment, I doubt the Mariners would sign Griffey if they still had Ibanez around as another stop-gap for 2009. Only so many stop-gaps you really want at one time.

Once Ibanez rejects the arbitration offer, then you start thinking about Griffey again. So, we wait.

Next, on Monday, the winter meetings begin in Las Vegas. Assuming Ibanez has rejected the M's offer, Zduriencik heads to Vegas with a pressing list that includes the need for power in both the near and long-term. The addition of Branyan will help him sleep nights, since he's at least upgraded a power position some. But the power void is still huge. And the only way to fix that -- without blowing big bucks on a free-agent -- is via trade. The M's have plenty of arms that interest other teams. Zduriencik will have to trade some of that pitching to bring in bats. It's quite simple. Between J.J. Putz, Brandon Morrow, Ryan Rowland-Smith, Ryan Feierabend, Jarrod Washburn and Erik Bedard, not everyone can stay. And Washburn alone likely won't get this team all it needs. Zduriencik may have to bite the bullet and give up some popular names.

By the end of next week, he should know whether or not he's gotten the ball rolling on some trades that could significantly impact the offense in the near and long term. Once he's got an idea of what he could get, then you go back and look to see whether any voids remain. That's where Griffey comes in. If you're Zduriencik and you know the trade route alone won't fill your short-term needs, you can consider bringing Griffey in to help you sleep better.

He'd be a one-year solution, make some fans warm and fuzzy and maybe -- just maybe -- give this team a little more power than it has. Branyan gives you better power at first base. But you still don't know how many games he can do that over without wearing down. Some players improve with more playing time. Others tail off.

And frankly, if Ibanez goes, every position other than third base and second base will need an upgrade. If Adrian Beltre gets dealt, then third would need an upgrade as well.

This team is in dire straits power-wise. That's why a Griffey addition, under the right circumstances, could still make sense even with Branyan aboard. But Zduriencik needs some time to see whether he can do better via the wheeler-dealer route.

Photo credit: AP

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