(ca. 2010) - Ryan Raburn? Awesome!
(ca. 2011) - Ryan Raburn? OK, I guess.
(ca. 2012) - Ryan Raburn? Pukehurlvomitpuke.
(ca. 2013) - Ryan Raburn? What a fantastically mesmerizing player!
(ca. 2014) - Ryan Raburn? Dear lord, my shoes smell better than he hits.
(ca. 2015) - Ryan Raburn? Dude’s like the Joey Votto of all non-Joeys in MLB. A mensch!
(ca. 2016) - Ryan Raburn? Oof. It’s like the toast was burnt before you put it in the toaster.
(ca. 2017) - Ryan Raburn? Hmmmmmm...
The Cincinnati Reds signed IF/OF Ryan Raburn on Friday, agreeing to a minor league deal with the 35 year old that would pay him some $900K in 2017 if he makes the roster out of Spring Training.
Let’s try this again: #Reds sign free-agent OF Ryan Raburn to minor-league contract with major-league invite. Take that, auto-correct!— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) February 17, 2017
The question becomes what the Reds can honestly expect to get from having Raburn around, since that's been one of the single toughest questions to answer across Major League Baseball for the better part of a decade.
FanGraphs' Jeff Sullivan highlighted the volatility Raburn has shown in his career just over one year ago, putting in perfect display just how difficult it has been to truly pencil him in for anything within the realm of expectations before the start of each of the last few seasons. At the time that article was written, Raburn has just posted quite possibly the single best offensive season of his career, hitting .301/.393/.543 in 201 well calculated PAs, facing almost exclusively LHP and belting them to the tune of a 1.004 OPS in 176 PA. That 148 OPS+ year was followed by him signing a free agent deal with the Colorado Rockies, where he'd presumably move to an offensive haven and continue to be the lefty masher he'd always been.
Except, that's not exactly how things played out. A 77 OPS+ in 256 PA later, he sat unsigned until today, when the Reds rolled the dice that his yo-yo career output will bounce back into the positive for 2017.
Raburn, it should be repeated, has largely crushed LHP for the bulk of his career - at least in the years when everything seems to click. He owns a .261/.341/.487 mark in his career against southpaws, a line that dwarfs his .246/.294/.391 against righties, and if he's not completely washed up as he enters his age-36 season, that's the kind of line against lefties that could well earn him a bench-bat role with the Reds.
Of course, that's the same reasoning that was largely behind the previous signing of lefty-buster Desmond Jennings - which I detailed here - and that gives me the impression that Raburn just might be some sort of Jennings insurance. Jennings has dealt with numerous leg issues over the previous few seasons, and it was those that largely drove down his price to the minor-league-pact level. He'll be in camp to show that he's healthy, and if he is, he'll be not just a versatile OF capable of hitting LHP, he'll also be a capable defender, something Raburn surely is not at this point in time. So, if Raburn's going to earn that roster spot, it'll be his bat that'll have to do some loud talking in Goodyear this spring.
Welcome to the fold, Ryan. Here's to your yo-yo career yo-yoing in the right direction for the Reds this year.