It’s more or less official – Jeff Baker is the new Ryan Raburn. We no longer need to watch Leyland & Dombrowski keep throwing Ryan Raburn out there in the vanishing hope that he will get things figured out. For the time being, Raburn is still part of the Tiger organization – stowed safely on the DL with a thumb sprain. But that thumb won’t stay sprained forever… and then what do you do with him?
The forum lynch mob has been calling for Raburn’s head for a while, starting even before his lamentable 2012 campaign started. The reasons are simple and obvious: inconsistent offense, gaffe-prone defense. Prior to this season, I would have been a serial Raburn apologist for equally simple and obvious reasons: he does do great things at the bat when he gets hot (and in years past, that has happened from time to time) and despite the gaffes he does get to a lot of balls in the outfield that Delmon Young or Brennan Boesch probably don’t. So lets start with that: in my opinion the “old Raburn”‘s positives outweighed his negatives (though at least a handful of people always disagreed). But now there don’t seem to be any positives to outweigh those negatives.
It is likely that the Tigers could find a way to hold onto Ryan Raburn IF they so desire. I don’t know to what extent he is truly, gravely injured at the moment – but if he needs to stay on the DL a little past that 15-days and spend a little time in Toledo rehabbing, it won’t be long before the rosters expand on September 1st. It’s possible that Raburn is on the DL for this reason alone, with an injury that a more productive player would play through. It’s also possible that Raburn is in a lot of pain, can’t play, but would have been cut outright when Jeff Baker was acquired were it not for that whole ‘no cutting injured players’ thing. In that case Dombrowski might decide to release or designate him in a week when he’s eligible to come off the DL. It has become very hard to imagine Raburn making any meaningful contribution in 2012, and the only role he had left on the team has been filled by Baker, so this decision would all come down to what is best for the 2013 Detroit Tigers.
Adam Dunn and Alex Rios were among the worst hitters in baseball last year and helped to keep an otherwise talented White Sox squad out of competition. This year those two guys are back to normal and are big reasons why the White Sox still lead the AL Central, despite disappointing seasons from some other cogs. Probably the only reason that those two even got a chance in 2012 is the amount of money that they were still owed – but they have proven once again that down years, even shockingly bad years, are not necessarily indicative of a downward spiral or a new normal. There is a pretty decent chance that whatever is ailing Raburn physically or mentally can be fixed by next April – bringing back that lefty-mashing second-half superstar we got to know in years past. He could at least be given the chance in spring training to show that things are different, but since the Tigers aren’t on the hook for tens of millions of dollars do they need to take that risk?
And is there even a role for Raburn on next year’s squad? We know Ryan Raburn isn’t going to be playing second base in 2013. I’m sure Tigers’ fandom as a whole is relieved. Omar Infante will be manning that position for at least one more year, maybe longer, and Ramon Santiago is the only backup that he reasonably needs. IF Raburn is going to have a role on the 2013 team, just like the last two months of 2012, it would be as a reserve outfielder. Raburn is making $2.1 million this year and would get a (tiny) arbitration raise should the Tigers offer him a contract this offseason. While that isn’t a huge amount of money in baseball terms, it’s a pretty good chunk of change for a right-handed backup. If Raburn is back to normal, he would be among the better hitters in the league for that particular role (i.e. a guy who is almost but not quite good enough to start) and worth the money. If he isn’t back to normal he isn’t worth a dime.
So… while Ryan Raburn could provide a decent return on that two-point-something million, so could a bunch of other guys who would seem to come with a lot less risk. One of those would be Jeff Baker, who could probably be extended for no more money per season than Raburn would be due. I would be surprised if Delmon Young gets any offers this offseason to play a larger role than 4th outfielder or for more than $2 million per annum, and if that’s all he’s going to get he could continue to do that here Another option would be Ben Guez, which would save a little bit of change that could be reallocated to keeping the Tigers rotation intact.
That’s just the three most obvious of dozens of possibilities – since right-handed corner outfielders who can only hit left-handed pitching are – on the whole – not scarce. Ryan Raburn has better tools and has hit better in a tougher park than most if not all of those other options – but I don’t see a reason to spend the $2 million and the spot on the 25-man roster at this point for a guy that, as a free agent, wouldn’t get anything more than a minor-league deal. The fate of Ryan Raburn should already be sealed.