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Indians reward Raburn with contract extension

Versatile veteran signed through 2015, with a club option for '16 season

CLEVELAND -- After a few weeks of working out the details, the Indians reached an agreement on a two-year contract extension for Ryan Raburn last Thursday morning. Later that day, the utility man took the field against the White Sox and showed his gratitude.

"We finalized terms that morning," Indians general manager Chris Antonetti said, "and he went out and hit two home runs."

Cleveland waited until Wednesday to make Raburn's contract official. Given his impressive performance to date this season, the Indians rewarded the versatile Raburn with a two-year deal worth a guaranteed $4.85 million. The contract includes a $3 million club option for 2016, or a $100,000 buyout for that season.

By locking up Raburn, the Indians have added some more stability to one of baseball's most productive bench groups this season. Over the winter, Cleveland signed utility man Mike Aviles to a two-year contract that runs through next season. The Tribe also has young backup catcher Yan Gomes under club control for six more years.

The way manager Terry Francona sees it, having a stable bench is critical for a team's success.

"We did some pretty significant moves this winter," Francona said. "But we're not always going to be the highest bidder on guys, so we got to figure out a way to win. And having guys like Raburn and Aviles on our bench helps us win, and it's proven. We've seem them time and time again help us win games. Moving forward, I don't see that being any different."

The timing of the announcement -- in the hours leading up to the Tribe's game against the Tigers -- seemed fitting.

After all, it was Detroit that released Raburn in November after a rough year that had him weighing if he even wanted to continue on in this game.

"I guess it's just a good coincidence that they're in town," Raburn said with a smile.

After the Tigers parted ways with Raburn, Francona and Antonetti both agreed that his ability to play multiple positions and provide right-handed pop would be a fit for the Tribe's bench. On Jan. 19, the Indians signed the 32-year-old to a Minor League contract that included an invitation to attend Spring Training and fight for a job.

With his .463 on-base percentage and five homers in Cactus League action, Raburn earned an Opening Day roster spot, and he has not looked back. Through 66 games, Raburn has hit .277 with 13 home runs, 14 doubles, 38 RBIs and a .935 OPS in 184 at-bats.

The Indians approached Raburn about the extension prior to the All-Star break.

"I had the mutual feeling," Raburn said. "For them to bring it up first, it really meant a lot to me."

Raburn headed into Wednesday's action with the most home runs among Major Leaguers with fewer than 200 at-bats. Among Major Leaguers with at least 25 at-bats with runners in scoring position and two outs, Raburn ranked first with a .462 (12-for-26) average. Second on that list was his former Tigers teammate, and last season's Triple Crown and American League MVP, Miguel Cabrera.

"I'm so happy for him," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "Well deserved. I'm really glad for him. He's comfortable here. He's got a manager that he's going to have a great relationship with, because his manager's a terrific guy. I think things are going to really work out for him. I couldn't be happier for him. We're all happy for him."

Last season, following a strong three-year run with Detroit, Raburn was handed the Opening Day role at second base by Leyland. Raburn battled injuries, dealt with a demotion to Triple-A Toledo and ended the season with a .171 average, one home run and 12 RBIs in 66 games for the Tigers, whose fans turned on him with a consistent stream of boos.

"I don't think anything went right for me last year," Raburn said. "Of course, when I went home, of course it's in the back of my mind whether or not I still wanted to do it. I'm just glad that Cleveland gave me the opportunity to come back and show that I can still play. I've been enjoying every minute of it so far."

Sometimes a subpar season can in turn create an opportune situation.

"We've always appreciated Ryan, playing across the field from him," Antonetti said. "He had a down year last year, and that's why he was available. So we thought that was an opportunity for us to bring him in and give him a chance to re-establish himself here. He's done an exceptional job of that."

Raburn earned recognition as the AL Player of the Week for his efforts from April 29-May 5. In that span, he batted .591 (13-for-22) with four homers, nine RBIs and a 1.773 OPS. In a three-game stretch at the start of that week, he went 11-for-13 and tallied consecutive multihomer games.

"That was awesome," Raburn said. "That's one of those weeks I won't ever forget, because I don't know if I'll ever have one quite as good as that."

On July 26, Raburn launched a walk-off three-run homer into the left-field bleachers to lift Cleveland to an 11-inning win against the Rangers. On Thursday, when he launched two home runs in a 6-1 win over the White Sox, Raburn became the first Indians player to notch three multihomer games in one season since Grady Sizemore accomplished the feat in 2008.

In 632 career games, Raburn totes a .258 average, .317 on-base percentage, .444 slugging percentage, 67 homers and 254 RBIs.

Detroit selected Raburn in the fifth round of the 2001 First-Year Player Draft. He spent the first 12 years of his professional career in the Tigers organization and socked a pair of homers for Detroit in the '11 AL Championship Series.

Raburn is hoping to have a chance at similar heroics this fall with the Tribe.

In the meantime, Leyland will be waiting for a present.

"If I don't get a sleeve of golf balls," Leyland said, "I'm going to be very disappointed."

Told of Leyland's comment, Raburn laughed.

"I'll get him a short sleeve," he replied.

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for Read his blog, Major League Bastian, and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian.
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