The Curious Case of Raul Ibanez
As we approach Major League Baseball’s All-Star break, there have been no shortage of interesting storylines to follow. From Yasiel Puig to Miguel Cabrera to that guy on the Reds that nobody outside of Cincinnati knows throwing his second career no-hitter, it seems like there’s something pretty cool going on in the bigs just about every day. However, when you root for the Mariners and the Mets, as I do, sometimes you need to look a little closer (we’re talking Hubble Space Telescope closer) to find those interesting angles. For the Mets, it’s been Matt Harvey, who should have double digits wins by now. Out in Seattle there’s always King Felix to watch and Hisashi Iwakuma has been terrific as well, with both justifiably making the AL All-Star roster. But there’s another guy who is quietly having a fairly amazing year.
At the ripe old(ish) age of 41 Raul Ibanez is leading the Mariners with 21 home runs with the next closest guy, Kyle Seager, trailing him by eight despite having almost 100 more at-bats. Ibanez is ranked sixth in the American League when it comes to dingers, and still hovering around the top ten in the entire league. This may not seem like much except for his aforementioned age, the fact that he’s playing at Safeco Field (granted they moved the fences in), and that virtually nobody wanted the guy. How else can you account for the fact that the New York Yankees, a team and stadium he seemed tailor-made for, refused to sign the guy even after he had an impressive 2012 in the Bronx and pretty much singlehandedly dispatched the Baltimore Orioles in the ALDS. In fact, in two playoff series where his teammates barely hit, Ibanez was one of the few standouts. Yet the Bombers declined to bring this fan-favorite back for a paltry one-year deal.
So here is Raul Ibanez, aboard for his third stint in the Pacific Northwest. Seattle is paying their most ancient Mariner $2.75 million for the 2013 campaign. If his season ended today, he’d be worth every penny. Yet it continues and he could very well eclipse his single-season best home run total and approach 100 rbi on a team where there is often no one on base to drive in. What’s even stranger is that he’s doing it in the era of so-called stringent PED testing. This doesn’t mean that he’s as clean as a whistle, by any stretch. But it is kind of cool that Raul Ibanez, whose career didn’t truly get jumpstarted until he was 30, is on the verge of 300 career home runs (he’s only eight shy) and needs a little over 50 hits to reach 2,000. Not too shabby for a guy who no one wanted and has almost always flown under the radar.