So I've had a few hours to collect everything going through my head. Now that I look back on it, I probably got a little too excited, but that's because A) it was funny timing, since I was just writing about Branyan last night, and B) Branyan's a guy I've wanted on this team for the last half-decade. It's not a big splash. It's barely even dipping a toe in the water. It's a minor move made by a bad team, a move to bring in a guy who likely won't be with the team the next time it's good. He's just a temporary placeholder, and in the long run it probably wouldn't make much of a difference if we went with Branyan or stuck with Bryan LaflippinHair. Our first baseman (or DH, or bench bat, or whatever Branyan ends up being) in 2009 will, I imagine, have little to do with the long-term success of the franchise.
But aside from the fact that Branyan'll make 2009 more enjoyable (last year he had half as many 420+ foot homers as the Seattle Mariners in 1/40th the plate appearances), what I find so encouraging is the thought process behind the move. Branyan's unlikely to be a league-average player, but he could easily be a ~league-average 1B or DH for pennies. How much did Bavasi blow through trying to find the same sort of guy? He is somewhere around the pinnacle of freely available talent, and just being able to identify that kind of player and then all but promise him a regular job...I know this is kind of like the captain of the Titanic saying "maybe next time we go a little more south" but it remains something to celebrate, because it's a giant step forward. Our new front office is aware of cheaper alternatives to expensive solutions. The old one wasn't. While we're certainly not pioneers in that regard, it's still a good, good sign. Even if this move in particular doesn't make much of a long-lasting impact, the idea behind it will help us down the road, when we're once again ready to compete.
It's easy to look at this, then look at the Wilkerson signing a year ago, and ask "what's the difference? Why is this any more encouraging than that?" I asked myself those very questions earlier this afternoon. But I think there are a few significant distinctions that show that Zduriencik is far more willing to trust this sort of player than Bavasi ever was. For one thing, Branyan was Zduriencik's first real move. Bavasi, meanwhile, didn't sign Wilkerson until the end up January, when he had a hole in the outfield and there was barely anyone left. For another thing, Branyan's a 1B/DH type, positions at which Bavasi insisted on having established veterans with track records; Wilkerson was just a corner OF, and the front office knew Wlad was on the way. And then there's the matter of role - while Wilkerson was meant to offer a little support, Branyan's being talked about like the team wants him to be one of its primary run producers.
I don't know that I'm explaining myself very well. I guess what I'm getting at is that I'm seeing two different ideas behind two different moves made by two different GMs.
Bavasi, Wilkerson: We need a right fielder. There's not much left. We'll settle.
Zduriencik, Branyan: This guy's cheap, he's effective, he meets a need, and he offers a lot of flexibility with minimal commitment.
So while the whole Wilkerson thing was borne of special circumstance, the idea behind the Branyan move tells us something about Zduriencik and his operating philosophies. More specifically, it tells us something good about them.
(Not to mention that, at the timing of signing, Branyan's the better player of the two.)
Since Zduriencik and the rest of his crew were first brought in, I've had blind faith in them to steer this team in the right direction. Now - for the first time, really - that faith is no longer blind, because they've given me a reason to believe in their competence. There've been a bushel of changes with respect to team personnel, but this is the first tangible sign of a change in philosophy, and that's exciting. So Branyan might bust. He's got old player skills and he turns 33 in a few weeks. Who cares? That's not what matters here. The entire Bavasi era was a never-ending sequence of mistakes, where even the good things came from bad thought processes. This is the first Major League move of the Zduriencik era, and the thought process is good. Real good. Maybe down the road it'll stand out as a fluke, but I don't see any reason to believe that. This looks more like a solid first step.
Who wouldn't be excited?