Lefty masher Raburn faces uncertain future
Indians have contract option for 2016 on veteran slugger
Ryan Raburn fully understood his role with the Indians this past season. When Cleveland began to slip in the standings midway through the summer, and younger players began occupying the clubhouse, the veteran also understood the long view being taken by the team.
When the calendar flipped from August to September, Raburn waited six days to see his name in the starting lineup. When it appeared again on Sept. 7 in Chicago, the opposing starter was White Sox ace lefty Chris Sale. Raburn responded to the tall task by belting a pair of home runs, showing his value as a potent platoon option.
Raburn might offer a shrug, or a smirk, but he never once complained about his sporadic playing time.
"That's not my decision," Raburn said at the end of the season. "The only thing I can control is preparing myself to play and, whenever I get that opportunity, doing it to the best of my abilities. I felt like I did that pretty good this year. I wish things would've been a little different.
"The hope is we would've been in the playoffs. But, we were struggling and they were trying to take a look at some other guys. I can understand that, but that's out of my control."
Out of Raburn's control now is whether he will be back with Cleveland in 2016.
Within three days after the conclusion of the World Series (postseason schedule), the Indians must decide whether to retain Raburn through a $3 million team option, or pay him a $100,000 buyout that will allow him to test free agency. While his playing time dwindled late in the season, the 34-year-old Raburn produced strong numbers, especially with his speciality of hitting left-handed pitching.
Raburn said he hoped for the chance to suit up for Cleveland again.
"It's out of my hands," Raburn said. "I did what I had to do. I competed and had a good year. Now, it's their decision. I understand there's a lot that goes into making these decisions. Hopefully, I'm back. I enjoy it here. The fans have been great to me. The organization is top notch. So, I hope I am. But, if not, I feel I'm in a good situation for this offseason."
Overall, Raburn turned in a .301/.393/.543 slash line in 173 at-bats for the Indians, producing eight homers, 25 extra-base hits and 29 RBIs in 82 games. It was similar to 2013, when the utility man hit .272/.357/.543 line in 87 games. Raburn had a 1.020 OPS against lefty pitching two years ago and then turned in a 1.004 OPS against southpaws in '15.
Among qualified Major League batters, Raburn's OPS ranked fourth in the American League this past season, trailing only Nelson Cruz, Mike Trout and Josh Donaldson. Raburn's 173 weighted runs created plus against left-handers ranked sixth in the Majors this year. Donaldson and Bryce Harper were one spot above and below Raburn, respectively, in that category.
"He's ready to hit lefties," Indians manager Terry Francona said at the end of the season. "He always has been. He's understood his role, and he stays ready and he does damage."
Consistency has been one of Raburn's pitfalls, though.
While Raburn excelled in both '13 and '15, he hit .171 in an injury-plagued 2012 campaign with Detroit and hit .200 while playing through health issues in '14 with the Tribe. Last offseason, Raburn retooled his workout regimen, dropped weight and bounced back in a big way this year.
"I had to change some things up," Raburn said. "Having the year I had this year -- my body felt great and I probably felt stronger than I had in a while -- it showed there were things I needed to change. It was a big step in the right direction for me."
It is up to the Indians to determine the next step.
In August, Cleveland acquired corner infielder and outfielder Chris Johnson, who has hit .314/.350/.436 in his career against lefty pitching. The Indians also have corner outfielder and first baseman Jerry Sands, who hit .297 with an .838 OPS against southpaws this past season. Both players got regular opportunities in the second half, while Raburn had only 55 at-bats (and a .997 OPS) after the All-Star break.
"In terms of the [team] option, it's something that we'll work through," said Chris Antonetti, the Indians president of baseball operations. "In terms of Ryan's year, he did a phenomenal job. He got back to being the player that was a game-changer for us in 2013. I think [Francona] has said it a few times. It's not too often when you have a non-regular player, when he plays, hit in the middle of your lineup and produce the way Ryan has.
"So, he has been an incredibly valuable member of the team in the role that he was in. He had a big impact against left-handed pitchers for us."