Branyan a big signing for Zduriencik

Branyan a big signing for Zduriencik

The first Major League free-agent hitter to sign a contract did not stir the interest of the news media on a national basis.

After all, this was not a signing of Mark Teixeira or Manny Ramirez -- or even Raul Ibanez or Milton Bradley, for that matter.

No, this was the signing of Russell Branyan by the Seattle Mariners.

Even so, the signing was significant enough for the Mariners to arrange a conference call for the media on Wednesday and have Branyan and newly hired general manager Jack Zduriencik on hand to answer questions.

And that's just the way the signing should have been handled. There are no small signings when it comes to putting together a team, and you can't tell how all of the pieces will fit until the final puzzle comes together.

Branyan isn't exactly accustomed to conference calls when he signs a contract. After all, he has played for eight teams during 11 Major League seasons.

Branyan played for San Diego, Philadelphia and St. Louis in 2007, and when there was no big league contract offered to him for 2008, he signed with Milwaukee's Triple-A Nashville team in February.

It appeared Branyan might be headed for a season in the Minor Leagues, but when the Brewers had a need for a left-handed bat in late May, they purchased the contract of the versatile veteran.

Branyan got an opportunity to appear in 50 games for the Brewers, mostly as a third baseman, and he delivered 12 home runs and 20 RBIs with a .250 batting average. Also noteworthy for a hitter who has posted high strikeout rates was his on-base percentage of .342.

Branyan showed enough power and positive attitude to impress one of the Brewers' top baseball executives, Zduriencik.

On Wednesday's conference call, neither Branyan nor Zduriencik could hide his excitement on what many might have termed a ho-hum signing.

Branyan spoke of his excitement at the chance to connect again with the new Mariners GM and said he loved everything about Seattle -- the city and the ballpark.

"Jack knows what it takes to build a winning team," Branyan said. He added that he felt he would have "an excellent opportunity to get [at-bats]" and that he was excited about the possibility of winning a regular job at first base.

Zduriencik acknowledged that Branyan would have an opportunity to win the first-base job, as things stand at present, and the GM said his first free-agent signing "has as much power as anyone in the game."

It was a comment made with a sense of warmth and understanding. Zduriencik waited patiently for his first chance to be a general manager, and now with the signing of Branyan he was open to giving another baseball lifer a true opportunity.

"I'm looking forward to giving Russell as many at-bats as he has had in his career," said Zduriencik.

Although the signing of Branyan figures to be soon forgotten outside of Seattle as the big names of the free-agent class ink contracts, you can be assured the transaction will be with Zduriencik forever.

General managers don't forget their free-agent signings, particularly their initial venture into the world of dealing with agents and the response of the media.

I contacted a couple of veteran general managers to ask if they still remember their first free-agent signing. The replies came quickly, showing the executives didn't have to do any research other than using their own memory banks.

"It was Mark McLemore," e-mailed Doug Melvin of the Brewers. "I was familiar with him from Baltimore, and I signed him to play in Texas and he turned out to be better than we expected and was one of my favorite players. He brought an energetic, fresh team-concept attitude to the park every day. When you are new, you usually have to change the culture, and Mark helped us do that."

"My first free-agent sign was Bob Tewksbury," replied Kevin Towers of the San Diego Padres in an e-mail response.

"My memory was the great game that he tossed against YOUR Dodgers in the decisive game that helped the Pads win the N.L. West in 1996 in the final game of the season."

Ouch. There are times when you ask a question and back comes a memory that isn't a pleasant reminder of a transaction.

Fred Claire was a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers from 1969-98, serving as Executive Vice-President and general manager. His book-Fred Claire: My 30 Years in Dodger Blue-was published by SportsPublishingLLC. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.