December 23, 2012 at 9:45 AM
Raul Ibanez expects to get look at three or four spots with Mariners
Just got done talking to Raul Ibanez, who said he isn’t sure exactly where he’ll get the most playing time this coming season with the Mariners, but does expect to get a fair number of at-bats doing it. Ibanez and the Mariners had talks a year ago when he was also a free agent, but “the opportunity for at-bats just wasn’t there.”
For Ibanez, the at-bats were key because of the leadership role the Mariners expect him to fill in their clubhouse.
“I think the best way to lead is by example,” Ibanez said. “And the best way to lead by example is by actually having the opportunity to get out there and produce.”
Ibanez said the Mariners have talked to him about playing left field, but also in right, where he played extensively with the Phillies and Yankees after leaving the Mariners following the 2008 season.
They also talked about Ibanez serving as a DH, as well as at first base, where Ibanez played a fair bit when with the Royals earlier last decade.
“They mentioned to me that if I can play first base, they might need it,” he said. “I can play first base, I’ve done it before so we’llsee what winds up happening.”
The Mariners, as I’d suspected last week, did not go hard after Nick Swisher once they traded for first baseman Kendrys Morales. Swisher has reportedly agreed to a four-year, $56 million deal with the Cleveland Indians, a contract much lower than he was initially expected to garner.
But much of Swisher’s value to the Mariners would have been his ability to move back and forth between right field and first base. Once Morales took care of their first base needs, the team opted to go the cheaper route with Ibanez as a fallback option there and as a left-handed hitting corner outfield platoon option — rather than paying Swisher $14 million per season to play right on a full-time basis. We discussed much of this scenario during the winter meetings, when we broke the news that the Mariners had contacted Ibanez’s agent. The Mariners have an opportunity to upgrade the outfield corners on a piecemeal basis, rather than one big splash.
And this can make a whole lot of sense, as long as the team deploys its financial resources in other areas. Just making small moves like this and then standing pat won’t help all that much since the Ibanez and Morales acquisitions are only guaranteed for one year and don’t help the team get better long term — at least not yet. But the winter is not over yet and there is still time — and obviously plenty of money left over — for the Mariners to make a more impact move that could help now and down the road.
The Mariners still have an opportunity to land center fielder Michael Bourn, a move that makes increasing sense given all the corner outfield platoon possibilities that are now shaping up for them, plus the fact that Franklin Gutierrez only has a year to go on his contract.
Ibanez still has a home in Sammamish that is in the process of being remodeled. He and his wife had planned to move their family back to the Seattle area in 2013 regardless of where he signed, given the ties they still have to people here.
He’s spent the past few years moving between homes in the Philadelphia and Miami area and is excited about coming back to Seattle.
“Anything’spossible in this game,” he said. “The only time you really get to think about it is when you hit free agency. I thought about it a bit last year and it didn’t work out. But now, the opportunity came this year and I think it’s a great opportunity to return to a place that I love and my family loves as well.”
The contract gives Ibanez $2.75 million guaranteed and another $1.25 million in what he says are “standard” incentive clauses based on plate appearances that don’t really start to kick in until the number gets “up there” in the higher range. Ibanez was limited to a more part-time role with New York last year and was kept under 400 at-bats for the first time since 2002.
He expects his Seattle role to be somewhat similar, facing predominantly right-handed pitchers.
“I’ve found that when you’re in a part-time role, if it’s the left-handed part, it works out pretty well because you’re seeing right-handed pitching three-quarters of the time,” he said.
As for the clubhouse part, Ibanez confirmed the Mariners spoke to him about that and discussed their needs.
“I’m going to be around a lot of young guys, great guys from what I’ve been told,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity to be around young, enthusiastic kids with an upside.”
Ibanez saw the Baltimore Orioles up close in the AL East this past season and said their playoff push came out of nowhere and shows what can happen with any team that believes in itself.
“A lot of major league teams are very similar in terms of talent,” he said. “And in the end, what can separate them often comes down to your drive, your desire and your belief in your abilities. That’s one thing I think we learned last year from seeing how they played.”