|The Mariners re-acquired first baseman Russell Branyan, who hit a career-high 31 home runs for Seattle last season, sending a pair of mid-level prospects to the Indians. Cleveland brought aboard Triple-A center fielder Ezequiel Carrera and Juan Diaz, a shortstop engaged in his second year with high Class A High Desert.
The Mariners also will receive a player to be named, unless the Indians instead opt to kick in the $1.1 million remaining on Branyan’s one-year deal. With the acquisition, Seattle instantly upgrades its production at first base, where regular Casey Kotchman was hitting just .189/.269/.292 with 12 extra-base hits (three homers) in 185 at-bats. Occasional fill-ins Mike Carp and Matt Tuiasosopo, both rookies, had fared even worse, combining for an overall batting line of .167/.231/.226 over 84 at-bats.
Cleveland now can hand over first base to 25-year-old Matt LaPorta, who had been biding his time with Triple-A Columbus. He batted .362/.457/.638 with five home runs in 69 at-bats for the Clippers this season, and he owns a .947 OPS over 111 Triple-A games. In sporadic play for the Indians this season and last, LaPorta batted .240/.301/.377 in 300 at-bats.
|Ezequiel Carrera, cf
Age: 23. Position: CF (40 G), LF (22 G), RF (1 G).
Born: June 11, 1987 in Guiria, Venezuela.
Ht.: 5-10. Wt.: 185. Bats: L. Throws: L.
Career Transactions: Signed as nondrafted free agent by Mets, April 4, 2005 … Traded by Mets with RHPs Aaron Heilman and Maikel Cleto, OF Endy Chavez, 1B Mike Carp and LHP Jason Vargas to Mariners for RHPs J.J. Putz and Sean Green and OF Jeremy Reed as part of three-team deal in which Mets sent RHP Joe Smith to Indians; Mariners sent 2B Luis Valbuena to Indians; and Indians sent OF Franklin Gutierrez to Mariners, Dec. 11, 2008.
Carrera won the Double-A Southern League’s batting and on-base percentage titles in 2009 while hitting an exemplary .337/.441/.416 for West Tenn. Injuries limited him to 91 games a year ago, but he’s been the picture of health this season—even if his offensive contributions have been much more meager. Carrera can really run and defend all three outfield spots, and his pesky, slap-and-dash approach has contributed to a career .297/.388/.388 batting line (including 86 stolen bases at a 72 percent success rate) over 1,221 at-bats in the U.S. minors. The Venezuela native models his game after countryman Endy Chavez, and that’s the role for which he best profiles: capable reserve outfielder on a good team. Carrera offers less power and a significantly weaker throwing arm than Chavez but balances that with a more nuanced batting approach.
|Juan Diaz, ss
Age: 21. Position: SS (69 G).
Born: Dec. 12, 1988 in Bani, Dominican Republic.
Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 180. Bats: B. Throws: R.
Career Transactions: Signed as nondrafted free agent by Mariners, April 20, 2006.
Evaluating a prospect’s offensive value in the explosive run-scoring context of High Desert can be a fool’s errand. In two seasons with the Mavericks, covering 599 at-bats, Diaz batted .299/.347/.434 with 11 home runs and 30 doubles. That the switch-hitter did so at ages 20 and 21 while proving himself as a capable defender at shortstop makes him a bit of a sleeper prospect. Though not flashy, Diaz makes the routine plays and sports above-average arm strength. He’s still growing into his 6-foot-3 frame, so it’s an open question as to whether he can remain at the position. The added bulk has fortified Diaz’s offensive game, however, and the Mariners had singled him out for his enhanced ability to drive the ball. While his 17 errors at shortstop ranked second in the California League (Stockton’s Grant Green led the way with 19), Diaz handled more chances than any other player except San Jose’s Ehire Adrianza.
|Russell Branyan, 1b
Age: 34. Bats: L. Remaining Commitment: $1.1 million, plus $5 million mutual option for ’11 (signed 1 year, $2 million deal with Indians in February).
Contract details courtesy of Cot’s Baseball Contracts.