RyanRaburnAndy Dirks was a late scratch in the Toledo Mud Hen’s lineup last night due to some soreness, but the decision seemed to be a precautionary move to allow the recovering outfielder some rest.

Jim Leyland has been quoted as saying that Dirks will stay on rehab assignment a little bit longer than is usual because he needs the at-bats after missing so much time, but rehab assignments are capped at 20 days (unless there’s special circumstances, and that doesn’t appear to be the case here) so we’ll certainly see Dirks back in Detroit in less than two weeks, and probably a lot sooner than that.

This brings us to the move that everyone’s been talking about recently (“Raburn, Kelly, Raburn, Rayburn, Raburn, Raburn, yadda, yadda, yadda”). When Dirks returns to the big club someone else has to go, and we really only have two candidates: Don Kelly and Ryan Raburn. Neither player are hitting very well this year -- Kelly has actually been slightly better at the plate, but let’s not go through the statistical hair-splitting exercise of trying to justify the value of having a 43 OPS+ bat on your bench instead of a 31 OPS+ bat. Let’s leave it at this: both have been very terrible at the plate this season.

The defensive versatility that either player brings is rendered a non-factor by the acquisition of Omar Infante and the presence of Quintin Berry. Don Kelly won’t be needed to play either third base or center field in a pinch as there are currently better options available (or at least reasonably similar replacements). Berry would get first dibs at any center field duties should something happen to Jackson (that’s why he was brought up in the first place), and Ramon Santiago (or Infante) could handle the hot corner for a spell if the need suddenly arose. So Don Kelly is now the third option in center field and the third (or fourth) option at third base, and Ryan Raburn is third in line for second base duties.

That leaves corner outfield defensive replacement as the only real defensive “need” that either player would fill, a position where both players have rated as “above average”. UZR rates Kelly as having plus range and an average arm, and rates Raburn as having average range and a plus arm (the magnitudes of each are quite meaningless given sample size constraints and the amount of playing time each would be likely to receive).

So here’s the conclusion on their abilities: both players have been relatively equally terrible hitters this season, and both players bring relatively equally good defense as corner outfielders.

So who should go? Here are four answers in order of how ideal each one would be for the team.

Who the heck cares, and why are we wasting blog posts on this? We just concluded that both seem to be fit fore late-inning defensive replacement with minimal plate appearances involved. Why huff and puff about which terrible player is the 25th man on the roster?

Ryan Raburn accepts a minor league option. Raburn was optioned earlier in the year, it’s final option year, but he’s gained five-years of MLB service time since then so he now holds “veteran status” and with that the power to veto an assignment to the minor leagues. The Tigers can ask him to go to Toledo, but he doesn’t have to oblige. The is probably the best actual option because it would allow the team to keep him (although it’s probably unlikely that he would be claimed on waivers) while getting him at-bats in Triple-A. The Tigers have been longing for another right-handed bat, and Raburn has a history of big league success. If he could get things turned around in Toledo, he could be a nice “addition” to the team in September. And if he doesn’t? Then he’d still be off the MLB roster. Win-win.

Don Kelly gets designated for assignment. As I concluded above, there’s not much difference between what the two players have contributed to the team thus far in the season. If Raburn refuses to go to the minor leagues to resurrect his career, then Kelly could take the fall for it. He would be extremely redundant as the fourth left-handed hitting corner outfielder and, unlike Raburn, he has no history of successful hitting in the major leagues.

Ryan Raburn gets designated for assignment. If Raburn refuses optional assignment, then he could likely find himself out of a job the old-fashioned way. I still believe he has more potential upside at the plate than Kelly, but you could hardly blame the organization if they decided to wash their hands of him.

So why might Raburn accept a trip to the minor leagues? He probably sees the writing on the wall that the minimal playing time he’s been getting will effectively go down to zero. He may see that the only way that he gets back into the team’s plans would be by ripping the cover off the ball in AAA. He may see that he could get a September call-up and possibly make the postseason roster if he cooperates and works on his swing. He may understand that refusing means he gets designated for assignment which means he could go unclaimed on waivers which means he ends up in the minor leagues anyway (except without the benefit of remaining on a 40-man roster).

Why might Rabrun refuse a trip to the minor leagues? He may think the organization would then designate Don Kelly for assignment thereby keeping his job. He may think that another team would claim him for their big league club if he was designated for assignment. He may simply be too proud to willingly pack his bags and head down.

 Matt Snyder is the editor of The Tigers Den. He can be reached on Twitter @snyder_matthew.