Branyan's back makes Rays look smart

When the Rays signed Hank Blalock to a minor-league deal worth roughly a million bucks, my immediate reaction was, "For another million they could have gotten Russell Branyan!"

And what's a million bucks when you're trying to win a World Series?

Not much, but you still have to get the (extra) million bucks on the field. And as Paul Hoynes writes, it's not clear when Russell Branyan will be on the field:

    "Branyan isn't ready yet," said [Manny] Acta. "Russell is still in the process of finishing his rehab."

    Acta said there was no date set for Branyan to play in a game. The Indians signed Branyan to a one-year, $1.5 million deal in February. The deal includes a mutual option for 2011 worth $5 million or a $500,000 buyout.

    Branyan had a career season derailed last year in Seattle because of a herniated disc in his back. He spent September on the disabled list. Questions about his back prevented Branyan from cashing in on his 31-homer, 76-RBI season.

    "I think we knew this coming in ... that he was still finishing his rehab," said Acta. "We have a lot of time left in camp. We're going to do the right thing. We've got to take care of this guy."

The Rays probably figured they had one shot at getting a left-handed hitter to complement Pat Burrell, and they naturally preferred one without chronic back problems. Since 2002, Branyan has averaged 79 games per season. Sometimes he's just been benched, but sometimes his back's been balky.

Granted, Hank Blalock hasn't exactly been Iron Man 3. In 2007, he had a rib removed (seriously) and missed most of the season. In 2008, he had a shoulder injury and missed most of the season. In 2009, he was mostly "healthy" but posted a .277 on-base percentage.

Blalock's cheaper, though, and his career numbers against right-handed pitchers, while far from brilliant, are better than Burrell's. A few decades from now, if somebody's studying the 2010 season he probably won't pay much attention to Blalock or Branyan, let alone the relationship between the two. But this summer I'll be watching them.