Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Free Agent at the End of the Season: Raul Ibanez

In a season of many negatives for the Mariners in 2008, Ibanez was one of the lone bright spots. Hitting in the middle of a terrible lineup, Ibanez still managed to hit 23 homers with 110 RBI while hitting .293. If it wasn't for Ibanez, who knows how bad the Mariners season would have been. Luckily for Ibanez, he gets to escape the hell hole of the Mariners (and especially Seattle sports) thanks to free agency.

The Case for Ibanez
-Mr. Consistency
In each of the past seven seasons, Ibanez has hit over 15 homers while continually producing an OBP around .345-.360 and a batting average near .290. Those numbers might seem unspectacular, but with Ibanez, you know the kind of production you are going to get. And in this day in age, teams will pay big money for consistent production (see: Derek Lowe).

-Jaime Moyer Syndrome
It's common knowledge in baseball that as guys get older, their play is supposed to decline. for most guys, this is true. However, every once in a while, a guy like Jaime Moyer comes along, and produces much better as he ages than he ever did as a young guy. For hitter, I think that Raul Ibanez is that kind of guy. Over the past three seasons, when Ibanez was supposed to be past his prime, his numbers have dramatically improved. Ibanez has shown no signs of slowing down, which is very encouraging for any team who wants to sign the 36 year old Ibanez.

-His age.
Yes, you read it right. The fact that Ibanez is 36 could actually help him on the free agent market. Here's why: there is no chance that Ibanez will get a five or six year deal from a club. He knows that, which means that he won't try for it. On the other hand, we have OF Adam Dunn, who is younger, left handed, and presumably, more expensive. So as teams shy away from Dunn's price tag and excessive demands, GMs will have no choice but to take a serious look at signing Raul Ibanez. His demand for a shorter contract really should help him.

-He actually hits lefties
It's refreshing to see a power hitting lefty hitter who can actually hit left handed pitching well. h wait, Ibanez hit left handed pitching better than he hit right handed pitching in 2008 (.305 v. .288). How impressive is that? Any team who signs Ibanez will have confidence knowing that this guy can hit against anyone.

The Case Against Ibanez
-His age
Yes, you read it right. Ibanez is still 36 years old and still could decline like so many 36 year olds before him have. Teams still need to be aware of his age and I'm sure for some clubs this will be a factor.

This should be an especially important point for any NL teams that are interested in Ibanez (cough...Mets). Ibanez is not a great outfielder and has very limited range. He would be an ideal DH, but a team could be okay with Ibanez in the outfield as long as you have a great center fielder (cough...Carlos Beltran). Ibanez will never be confused with Endy Chavez and I'm sure that every team that looks into Ibanez wants his bat, not his glove.

Unfortunately for Ibanez, the free agent OF class is very top heavy this season. Between Manny Ramirez, Adam Dunn, Pat Burrell, and perhaps Bobby Abreu, teams will have a pretty good variety of quality outfielders. Ibanez's agent cannot argue that Ibanez is the best free agent OF in this class, but he can argue that Ibanez will deliver the same production as any of these guys.

And despite the amount of quality outfielders, there is no doubt that there will be many teams looking to sign Ibanez. I look for the Mets, Yankees, Blue Jays, Nationals, Dodgers, and Cubs all could have interest depending how the off season plays out. Ibanez wants to play for a contender and it seems as though the Mariners are a few years away, which would take them out of contention.

(3 years/$33 million)

There is no doubt in my mind that Ibanez is going to get paid. Unfortunately for him, he may lose a few million bucks because of the economy, but I think $11 mil is about right for him anyway. Ibanez is a consistent force who will provide power and stability to the middle of any lineup. Teams will pay top dollar for that, which is why it is a good time to be Raul Ibanez right now. If any team gives Ibanez more than three years, then they are crazy. Three years for a 36 year old might be tough to swallow, but this contract will not hamstring the franchise for years to come.

Ibanez offers far more to teams than any of these guys:

-Gary Matthews Jr (5 years/$50 mil)
-Juan Pierre (5 years/$45 mil)
-Kosuke Fukudome (4 years/$48 mil)

Ibanez's agent has to point out these contracts when talking contracts with teams. Can any GM really say that Juan Pierre offers more to a team than Raul Ibanez? No GM could back up that statement. I think that's where the market will set for Ibanez, and if so, that'd be a great contract for a great guy.

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