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Branyan passes physical, joins Tribe

Branyan passes physical, joins Tribe

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GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The Indians finally made the signing of Russell Branyan official Wednesday.

Now it's up to manager Manny Acta to decide what to do with him and what his presence means to the immediate futures of the two principle acquisitions in the 2008 CC Sabathia trade, Matt LaPorta and Michael Brantley.

Where LaPorta and Brantley once seemed bound for everyday duties at first base and left field, respectively, LaPorta might now be headed back to left and Brantley might be headed back to Triple-A Columbus, because Branyan is penciled in as Acta's regular first baseman.

"We didn't sign [Branyan] to be a backup guy," Acta said.

The Indians were satisfied enough with the results of Branyan's physical examination to officially sign off on his one-year, $2 million contract. Branyan, who completed the exam Tuesday, can also receive up to $1 million in performance incentives, and the deal includes a mutual option for 2011 worth $5 million.

In anticipation of the Branyan signing, the Tribe made a move to make room for him on the 40-man roster. Utility man Chris Gimenez was outrighted to Triple-A Columbus and will remain in camp as a non-roster invitee. Right-hander Anthony Reyes, recovering from Tommy John surgery performed last summer, was then added to the 40-man and placed on the 60-day disabled list. Reyes had an out in his contract at the end of camp, and the Indians wanted to keep him around as a potential option in the second half.

Branyan, meanwhile, was not at camp Wednesday but will arrive Thursday, ready to take over at first base.

"He adds depth we didn't have at first base," Acta said. "We were an injury away from not feeling as comfortable. We're more covered now."

The Indians will be counting on Branyan to provide some muscle to their youthful lineup. The 34-year-old Branyan belted 31 homers in 431 at-bats for the Mariners last season, batting .251 with an .867 OPS in 116 games.

Branyan, however, was sidelined for the final month of the '09 season because of a bad back, which is why the Indians' physical was not considered a mere formality. But the Tribe determined he carried a tolerable amount of risk.

"He went through a rigorous physical and is moving around fine," general manager Mark Shapiro said.

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But the Indians will still have to be careful with Branyan, just as they'll be careful with designated hitter Travis Hafner, who has battled shoulder issues the last two years. One of the reasons the Indians signed Branyan was to provide an insurance policy for Pronk.

Branyan is yet another left-handed hitter in a lineup full of them. Shapiro said he added Branyan, in lieu of a right-hander, because he felt he was the remaining free agent with the most potential to positively impact the club. The Tribe had also kicked the tires on Jermaine Dye and Hank Blalock.

"The fact remains that we face right-handed pitchers 70 or 75 percent of the time," Shapiro said. "We'll well-suited for the majority of the pitchers we'll be facing."

This will be Branyan's fourth go-around with the Indians, the team that took him in the seventh round of the 1994 First-Year Player Draft. He made his Major League debut with the Tribe in 1998 and spent parts of the '99, 2000, '01 and '02 seasons in Cleveland before he was dealt to the Reds in the '02 trade that brought Ben Broussard to the Indians.

Branyan would later be reacquired by the Tribe in 2004 and spend three months at its Triple-A affiliate in Buffalo. In '07, he was briefly acquired and added to the Triple-A roster, only to be shipped to the Phillies just two days later.

Just when it seemed Branyan's career was all but over, he exploded in Seattle last year.

"His career path has not been linear," Shapiro said. "He's had to crawl his way back when nobody believed in him. That resolve and toughness, combined with him wanting to be here, can positively impact on our team."

Branyan, a career .234 hitter with 164 homers and 396 RBIs in 882 big league games, looked for a multiyear deal in the free-agent market, but the back issue prevented that proposition.

With Branyan in the fold, the outlook changes for LaPorta, who split his time between first and left last season and had been the Tribe's purported starter at first, assuming he continues to progress well in his recovery from offseason hip and toe surgeries. It also likely changes for Brantley, who made a sizzling September debut in the big leagues but still might need some Triple-A seasoning.

"Both of those guys are going to play every day, somewhere," Acta said. "It's too early in camp [to determine what will happen]. Both of those guys are a big part of our future, but we're still in the development process."

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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