Cleveland Indians: Don’t Count Out Ryan Raburn Just Yet


Ryan Raburn shouldn’t be counted out of the Indians 2016 plans just yet

Unless the Cleveland Indians’ Chris Johnson backs his car over Corey Kluber’s foot, or strips off his uniform and runs through the stands naked during a game next season, we will look at the roster spot and the hit on the payroll, remember that it means Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn are not here, and be happy.  Actually, we may give him a pass on the running naked thing, just to get rid of those other two.

The real question, though, is whether he will help.  Johnson is a younger, more expensive version of Ryan Raburn (right handed bat, plays several positions, none particularly well), and, since Raburn’s contract has a team option for next year, the popular assumption is that the Indians will decline the option on Raburn to avoid having a redundancy on the roster.  It is not clear, though, that Johnson would be an upgrade on Raburn or that having both of them on the roster is necessarily a bad thing.

When thinking about Raburn, this is the thing that needs to be remembered:  the team that finished eleventh in the American league in runs scored has a $3 million option on a guy who just posted an OPS of .936.  For a major league team, three million is like the budget for sunflower seeds.  Not only did nobody else on the roster come close to a .936 OPS this year, nobody on this roster has ever posted on .936 OPS, unless you count Carlos Carrasco and his one at bat this season.  It’s true that Raburn doesn’t hit right handers particularly well, but this is a guy who should be in the lineup every time a lefthander starts for the opposition.  That’s about 50-60 games a year, most seasons.  That’s about two hundred at bats that you can plan on being handled well.

At this point there is little doubt that any ranking of the nine best hitters for the Indians would include both Johnson and Raburn.   At the moment, this is a team that has no idea who its center fielder or designated hitter will be next year.  They want to believe that Lonnie Chisenhall can be part of the solution in right field, much as your parents wanted to believe the pot they found in your car wasn’t yours.  You get the sense that they would move on from Carlos Santana if it didn’t create yet another hole, and the only way Giovanny Urshela is on the roster in April is if they decide they love his defense enough to hit him ninth and take whatever they can get from him offensively.  You can do that at one position, but more than that and eleventh in runs scored starts looking like optimism.

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Is Raburn part of the solution to all of this?  I don’t know, but I would be willing to waste three million to find out.  Best case scenario is that the Indians add one or two real live bats this offseason; the rest of the gaps in the roster will be filled by retreads on minor league deals or the Tyler Holts of the world.  We know from experience that they will be lucky to hit on half of those, so it is hard to envision a scenario where there is any semblance of depth.  Why not exercise the option on Raburn and bring him to camp until you see how the rest of the roster shakes out?  If you actually get to a point where you have so many good hitters that Raburn isn’t needed, you trade him or DFA him and eat the three million.  Call it an insurance policy.

You could do worse than enter the season with Johnson, Chisenhall, Santana, and Raburn sharing time at first, right, and DH.  At least with those guys in place you can use your one big play in free agency or the trade market to fill the gap in center field, which is a more pressing need since you need a specific skills set there.  Cut Raburn loose, and you’ll end up spending the same money on a similar player to do the same things.  The only factor tipping the scales against him is the whole even numbered year thing, which has no scientific basis but will definitely be weird if it happens again.

Next: What happened to Kluber?