This tweet came through my timeline the other day and, I can't lie, it bothered me. When Drennan came out with his Branyan blow-up, I was over the edge. Casual baseball fans (I have no idea if "TD" considers himself a casual fan; I know Bruce Drennan ought to) consistently have a hard time wrapping their heads around the economics of baseball. Russell Branyan makes $2,000,000 and, heck, that's a lot of money! Wheel of Fortune type money! Bigger than that, even!
Yes and no. $2,000,000 is a lot of money in many contexts. In the context of baseball salaries, though, it's nothing. Accusing a baseball player who was signed as a free agent of "stealing" $2 million is something like accusing an HR assistant at the $32,000 level of "stealing" money in a Fortune 500 company. It just doesn't make sense; no matter how poorly that HR assistant performs, directing anger towards him is absurd. As long as he shows up and is agreeable, he's basically earned his paycheck. He understands the company owes him very little, as he could be fired tomorrow with little fanfare, and that he owes the company very little in return. That's not to say every low-level worker will take that attitude or should, only that it's a justifiable one in Corporate America. You can get all grampa-pants about "earning your keep" if you want but I've observed enough office work to know the score.
Below is a list of players that make salaries around Branyan's. I did this by going through Cot's and pulling out free agent signings that looked similar to me on a quick run-through. I apologize in advance for any major whiffs. I generally avoided anything with more than a year guaranteed, though I made some exceptions if the total value stayed extremely low.
Russell Branyan, $2M: 46 PAs, 124 OPS+
Geoff Blum, $1.5M: 60 PAs, 99 OPS+
John McDonald, $1.5M: 37 PAs, 70 OPS+
Omar Infante, $1.85M: 80 PAs, 84 OPS+
Troy Glaus, $1.75M: 129 PAs, 103 OPS+
Craig Counsell, $2.1M: 58 PAs, 118 OPS+
Gregg Zaun, $2.15M: 96 PAs, 100 OPS+
Kelly Johnson, $2.35M: 132 PAs, 143 OPS+
Aubrey Huff, $3M: 127 PAs, 118 OPS+
Ken Griffey Jr., $2.35M: 87 PAs, 38 OPS+
Alex Cora, $2M: 53 PAs, 61 OPS+
Jerry Hairston Jr., $2.125M: 110 PAs, 41 OPS+
Ramon Hernandez, $3M: 79 PAs, 106 OPS+
Jason GIambi, $1.75M: 38 PAs, 75 OPS+
Miguel Olivo, $2.5M: 87 PAs, 84 OPS+
Melvin Mora, $1.275M: 59 PAs, 86 OPS+
Scott Podsednik, $1.75M: 140 PAs, 115 OPS+
Jim Thome, $1.5M: 82 PAs, 162 OPS+
Mark Kotsay, $1.5M: 62 PAs, 41 OPS+
Omar Vizquel, $1.375M: 36 PAs, 5 OPS+
Randy Winn, $1.1.M: 33 PAs, 52 OPS+
The numbers are ultimately irrelevant. It's too early to be making any lists of this type. What is relevant is the cohort. Russell Branyan exists in the context of Miguel Olivo, Mark Kotsay and Omar Vizquel. That's the type of signing he is. If you didn't recognize that from the start then adjust your expectations accordingly, starting now. If you did recognize that and still got angry at Branyan, ask yourself why you are so upset about, essentially, a utility infielder's salary. A backup catcher's salary. Craig Counsell's salary!
Looking at the list, only 6 guys on it have an OPS+ over 100 and Branyan's one of them. So, what exactly are we complaining about? Even if Branyan had not homered twice last night, would you prefer the Indians had made a run at Geoff Blum? Troy Glaus? We can try to compare Not Fussy Russy to the most similar types of signings (by my quick math, that's Blum, Glaus, Huff, Griffey, Giambi, Podsednik, Thome and Kotsay) and he still comes out as a middle of the pack guy, at the very worst.
I'll briefly respond to the assertion that the Indians would be better off not playing this low-level free agent signing game at all, instead funneling the money back into the draft or some other developmental structure. To that I say, get real. Shapiro has one totally unassailable quality: turning relatively low-value veterans into good prospects. He's done this time and time again (Benuardo, Pavano, Blake, Crisp, Garko). To prevent him from doing that in order to funnel more money into an area where his regime has not been as consistently great (the acquisition of amateur talent) would be foolish. Play to your strengths.
We've seen this kind of misplaced frustration before, directed at guys like Todd Hollandsworth and Ramon Vazquez. I didn't like it then and I don't like it now. Jay has said, "fire-the-manager is the lowest form of baseball discourse," and I largely agree. However, impugn-the-free-agent-who's-making-peanuts is close behind. If this is what you find outrageous, amidst all of the mistakes of the last three years, you've lost the narrative.