Laynce Nix

Indians buy high on Ryan Raburn, but it’s OK

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After hitting .256/.311/.430 in 1,573 at-bats over seven seasons with the Tigers, Ryan Raburn had to settle for a minor league contract in the offseason.  A few charmed months later, he’s now making guaranteed money through 2015, courtesy of the two-year, $4.85 million extension he signed with the Indians on Wednesday.

There’s no denying that the 32-year-old Raburn has been one of the league’s best role players this season; he’s hitting .277/.370/.565 with 13 homers and 38 RBI in 184 at-bats. He’s not just doing it against lefties, either; he’s hit .257/.347/.523 with eight homers in 109 at-bats against right-handers.

Still, there’s little to suggest this has been any sort of real breakthrough for Raburn. His strikeout rate is a bit higher than his career average. His line drive rate is, too, but only a bit. He’s been more selective than ever before, and it’s helped his walk rate. But much of his success is built on every one of his four flyballs leaving the yard, and that’s just not sustainable. According to hittrackeronline.com, Raburn is one of two players in baseball to have four “lucky homers” this year. His last two homers, coming Aug. 1 against the White Sox, were both wind-aided and wouldn’t have left the yard under normal conditions.

This is also my least favorite type of contract: multiyear deals for part-time players go bad far more often than not. Ask the Cardinals about Ty Wigginton and the Phillies about Laynce Nix. It’s not even about the money; often it turns out to be a waste of a roster spot on a player who doesn’t deserve it.

All of that said, I don’t have much of a problem with the Indians’ signing here. I don’t believe that Raburn will keep this up in 2014, but he’s been a good part-time player more often than he’s been a bad one in his career. Also, the Indians always figure to have use for him with left-handed hitters Michael Bourn and Michael Brantley due to occupy starting spots in the outfield for the next few years.

Little good can come from extending a player at the peak of his value, and that’s exactly what the Indians did here with Raburn. But the money is so modest anyway that this mostly comes down to whether Raburn will still be worth a bench spot in 2015, the final year of the deal. I’m guessing he will be.