When the Indians extended Ryan Raburn for two years at a little less than $2.5 million per year back in August, I frankly did not understand why they did it. Despite the fact that he was in the midst of a great season, Raburn was still a guy coming off a disastrous 2012 season (.171/.226/.254). It wasn’t so much the dollar amount that bothered me; a solid bench player is worth about $3 million per year. What bothered me was that the team was guaranteeing a roster spot to a part-time outfielder with an inconsistent track record when they already had a guy in Drew Stubbs that filled the same role on the roster and who was under team control for three more seasons.
Well, the Indians alleviated my worries when they signed David Murphy to a two-year, $12 million contract with a third year club option. There are a lot of reasons to like this move. Murphy is a good bet to bounce back closer to his 2012 numbers, and Raburn will be allowed to play a part-time role in the lineup, a role in which he has flourished in the past. The more subtle effect of this signing is that it will allow the team to trade Stubbs, presumably for bullpen help.
That last point is an important one. We can argue all day about whether we would rather have Stubbs or Raburn as Murphy’s platoon partner, but it can’t be denied that Stubbs’ ability to play center field makes him a significantly more attractive trade chip than Raburn. If the Indians can flip Stubbs for substantial bullpen help, specifically bullpen help that is pre-arbitration eligible, that would be a major coup for the front office. As Jason mentioned here, the bullpen currently looks to be pretty thin, and the Indians don’t have the budget to sign free agent relievers, not when a LOOGY like Javier Lopez is receiving over $4 million per year in free agency.
In a more macro sense, the series of moves going back to the Raburn extension in August shows that this front office is thinking two or three steps ahead of the present. They saw extending Raburn as an opportunity to lock in a right-handed bat with some pop to a below-market contract. I don’t know how much foresight we can credit the Indians with when it comes to David Murphy, but it seems as though the Tribe planned to sign a guy this offseason to take the majority of the at-bats in right field, thus allowing Raburn to slide into a part-time role and freeing the team up to trade Stubbs for bullpen help.
It can be easy sometimes to sit at a keyboard and be critical of the moves a team makes without knowing what the big picture plans are. This string of moves shows that this is a smart front office that carefully considers the ramifications of each move they make. It may not always manifest itself on the field, but Chris Antonetti and Company have proven once again, at least to me, that the plans and principles used to construct the roster are sound.