Raburn spent the past few years shuffling between a super-utility role and occasional stretches in the starting lineup. After batting .280 last year with 25 doubles, 15 home runs and 62 RBIs in 371 at-bats, though, he's poised to take the bulk of the playing time in left field and possibly grab a key spot in the top half of the order.
It was somewhat of a surprise deal for Raburn, who turns 30 years old in April and is eligible for arbitration for the first time. Given the Tigers' other contractual commitments and the arbitration cases they had this year, they were expected to hold themselves to one-year deals. But as long as they're committed to keeping Raburn in a big position beyond this year, and they believe he can produce, then there was a financial benefit to signing him for 2012 now rather than let him go to arbitration with a full season of production on his resume. The Tigers signed utility infielder Ramon Santiago to a two-year contract last winter out of the same benefit of cost certainty.
The move leaves reliever Joel Zumaya and starter Armando Galarraga as the remaining arbitration-eligible Tigers. Both present unique cases which they and the Tigers will have to bridge. Zumaya has missed much of the last four seasons with injuries, but he has a chance to be a key late-inning arm if he's healthy. Galarraga has spent much of the past three seasons in the Tigers' rotation, but he now faces an uncertain future in Detroit with the imminent signing of Brad Penny.