With the non-waiver trade deadline rapidly approaching, the Tigers still have a giant Ryan-Raburn-sized hole on the roster. How desperate should they be to do something quickly? I suppose that depends on what “do something” means.
After acquiring Francisco Liriano, chief division rival Chicago now has 3 lefties in their rotation. The Tigers, for almost as long as I can remember, had been a righty-loaded team that hit lefties well (or at least less badly). Going into the year most everyone would have expected more of the same (though a lot of recent righty-on-lefty damage had been dealt by Magglio Ordonez and Brandon Inge), but Ryan Raburn (and to a lesser extent, Delmon Young) have not been providing the needed production – against left-handed pitching Raburn’s OPS is a measly .465. Once Andy Dirks comes back, and perhaps even now, the Tigers can effectively do without those two in the lineup – provided a righty is on the mound. Delmon Young has been warmer in July, and though he plays DH and hits like a middle infielder he has vastly outperformed Raburn, so again I will focus on the Raburn sized hole rather than the Young-sized soft spot.
Raburn has the team in an awkward position. After the trade for Omar Infante, his role is now only as a 4th outfielder and right-handed bench bat – and though the Tigers actually really need a competent right-handed 4th outfielder those guys should be a dime a dozen. He has hit so badly, though, that he seems to be as bad an option against opposing southpaws as a teams weakest-hitting left-handed reserve. Nor has he yet shown any real signs of revival, with a .438 OPS in July. The problem is that he has vastly more talent than most 4th outfielders or right-handed bench bats and there isn’t any convenient place to store him while he rediscovers his swing. If the Tigers replace Raburn on the 25 with any candidate from inside or outside the organization, it’s likely that they would lose him for good.
I’m increasingly down on Raburn’s chances to pull his season together on the fly down the stretch, though I certainly wouldn’t count him out as a major leaguer. He could easily put together a great 2013 a la Alex Rios (or not) and he doesn’t cost all that much, so I would consider it a real cost to the organization to give up on him. But in the middle of a pennant race, can the Tigers afford to hold on to dead weight? Though he has been getting undeserved PT in hopes of ending that slump, he’s really a lot like a rule 5 pickup on the Detroit roster at the moment. Teams in contention rarely hold on to rule-fivers for obvious reasons.
So, I would have to say no. I – lagging most readers and other Tigers fans – finally agree that it’s time to give Ryan Raburn the boot. It’s conceivable, if unlikely, that he would make the trip to Toledo without complaint or interference – but I doubt that. This, unfortunately, would not fix the Tigers problem of the Raburn-sized hole – which is currently occupied by a guy that looks like but does not hit like Ryan Raburn. Quintin Berry has done fine work for the Tigers while Dirks hobbled around in a giant boot, but even counting his good month Berry only has a .607 OPS against lefties. And that is despite a .393 BABIP vs. lefties, which is another way of saying his problems are chronic and not just luck. His luck has been good, but luck doesn’t matter when you never walk and strike out 40% of the time. Berry can’t hit lefties, so that has been Raburn’s job.
IF Dirks comes back in full health and swinging the bat well, maybe he could play most days against lefties as well. We’ll deal with the obligatory “how does Dirks change the picture” piece when the time comes, at the moment he’s still looking rusty and we’re still worried that he’ll have some kind of relapse. There is also, God forbid, the chance that when Dirks does come back he’ll look just like last year’s Dirks and nothing like the Dominican Superstar we saw in the season’s first two months. In my opinion the Tigers do need another offense-first right-handed hitter to play a corner outfield spot.
There was a rumor last week connecting the Tigers to Scott Hairston of the Mets. Hairston is a guy who has been doing for New York what Ryan Raburn has done for Detroit in the past – clobber lefties. He would be a good fit, the problem is that he’s also a good fit for the Mets and there’s no indication that they plan to give up on the season. Big market teams with high expectations just can’t do that without alienating fans. That means that Hairston would not come cheap, considering his true value, and I can’t imagine the Tigers being willing to part with real prospects for him or anyone else in that mold. There may be another option or two out there, but the fact is that there are still too many buyers and not enough sellers. But… as John Verburg pointed out about 6 weeks ago – there is an in-house option that is worth a shot: Ben Guez. He wrote that in June, but Guez has ratcheted his game up a notch since then with a .981 July OPS. Guez is a guy that has gotten very little attention in any consideration of the Tigers “top prospects” since he doesn’t have enough of any one tool to project as more than a 4th outfielder and right-handed bench bat. But, hey, look what the Tigers need! I’d say the Tigers don’t need to “do” anything in the trade market, but they ought to DFA Mr. Raburn and call up Mr. Guez.