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Tigers release Raburn, open up spot for Rondon

DETROIT -- Ryan Raburn's Tigers tenure is over. Bruce Rondon's time in Detroit might be just beginning.

After years of tantalizing stretches and frustrating slumps that left the Tigers wondering what Raburn could do over a full, effective season, the team parted ways with the versatile right-handed hitter on Tuesday. Detroit released Raburn part of a series of moves to set its 40-man roster by Tuesday's league-imposed deadline.

The Tigers also outrighted the contract of right-hander Tyler Stohr to Triple-A Toledo. The moves created room to add Rondon, fellow right-handed reliever Melvin Mercedes and shortstop Dixon Machado.

The moves leave the Tigers' roster at 39 players ahead of next month's Winter Meetings, giving them room to sign a free agent or make some other move in the weeks ahead without having to designate a player.

The Tigers could have designated Raburn's contract for assignment, but considering the club had three weeks to find a trading partner for Raburn since the season ended, they would've eventually come to this point.

If Raburn has a breakout season in him, it's going to have to come somewhere else. The move ends what had quietly become one of the longer tenures for a player in the Tigers' organization.

Once Detroit released Brandon Inge in April, no player on the roster had been in the organization longer than Raburn, a fifth-round pick in 2001. This was hoped to be the year he blossomed in close to everyday duty, splitting time at second while getting some starts in left field against left-handed pitching.

Raburn seemed poised to rise to the opportunity, heading into St. Patrick's Day with six home runs in Spring Training. His season fell apart from there.

The fact that Raburn struggled at season's start followed the pattern that has dogged him the past few years in Detroit. Unlike previous seasons, however, he never hit his way out of it, despite a long stretch of playing time at second base from manager Jim Leyland to try to find him a spark.

In hindsight, Leyland said at the end of the regular season playing Raburn regularly for as long as he did was his biggest mistake. He was pretty much an everyday player for the first two months before a brief stint to Triple-A Toledo to try to work on his swing. He was batting just .146 (18-for-123) with 35 strikeouts at the time of the move.

Raburn was back in Detroit by mid-June, but never got going. After stints of playing time against left-handed pitchers in June and July, Raburn went on the disabled list with a sprained right thumb. He made it back for a couple weeks in September, but played little before going back on the DL for good with a strained right quadriceps.

For the season, Raburn batted .171 (35-for-205) with one home run, 12 RBIs and 53 strikeouts. In so doing, he finished up a two-year, $3.4 million contract the Tigers reached two years ago to avoid arbitration.

Raburn would've been eligible for arbitration this year had Detroit kept him. In the end, that was a bigger reason for the move than making room to place prospects on the 40-man roster and protect them from next month's Rule 5 Draft.

Foremost among those prospects is Rondon, the big, hard-throwing right-hander who will go to Spring Training. Team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski has been touting him as a closer candidate for next season.

Rondon, who turns 22 in December, rose from Class A Lakeland to Double-A Erie and then Triple-A Toledo this summer, and simultaneously emerged as one of the game's most formidable relief prospects. His fastball consistently hit triple digits, topping out at 102 mph, but the key to his breakout was better command, including secondary pitches to keep hitters off-balance.

Add up his performances at three different levels, and Rondon allowed nine earned runs on 32 hits over 53 innings with 26 walks and 66 strikeouts. The Venezuelan made the World Team roster for the 2012 All-Star Futures Game in Kansas City, where he hit 102 on the Kauffman Stadium radar gun en route to an impressive appearance.

The Tigers have similarly high hopes for Mercedes despite a slow rise up the organizational ladder. The 22-year-old recorded nine saves in 37 appearances for low Class A West Michigan, with a 2.80 ERA and 54 hits over 64 1/3 innings. He struck out 43.

Machado, who will turn 21 in February, had a disappointing 2012 season at Class A Lakeland after a 2011 campaign that landed him in the Arizona Fall League among some of baseball's top prospects. The speedy defender hit just .195 (82-for-421) for the Flying Tigers with 19 extra-base hits, 59 runs scored, 37 RBIs and 23 stolen bases in 28 attempts.

Detroit Tigers, Dixon Machado, Melvin Mercedes, Ryan Raburn, Bruce Rondon