The Raul Ibanez ProblemBy
Two years ago, I wrote this post tearing into Marcus Thames for his poor Spring Training as well as the Yankees for counting on him as their primary lefty masher heading into the season. He looked old and slow in camp, then went on to exceed every expectation during the regular season by producing a .365 wOBA in 237 plate appearances, which was far more playing time than he was supposed to receive. Thames had history on his side and the Yankees stuck with him despite the ugly Spring Training numbers, and their patience was rewarded.
A similar scenario is playing out this spring with Raul Ibanez, who has been awful with the bat (a single, a double, and two walks in 33 plate appearances) and is showing signs of being toast. There are obvious differences between he and the 2010 version of Thames, specifically age (39 vs. 33), handedness (left vs. right), role (DH vs. OF), and price ($1.1M vs. minor league deal), but otherwise things are pretty similar. History says Ibanez will hit right-handed pitchers in the long run, but the short-term has been ugly and uninspiring. It’s real easy to envision the guy carrying this performance over into the regular season and becoming a bit of a problem for the Yankees.
I haven’t watched many of Ibanez’s at-bats this spring only because I usually don’t pay much attention to any hitters in March. I’m a pitching guy so I watch the arms but don’t focus on the bats. I’ve seen a few people say that Ibanez hasn’t hit anything hard all month and I’m inclined to believe them only because I haven’t been paying attention. It’s a bad sign if true, but at the same time I still have a hard time putting stock into any Spring Training performance. We’ve seen too many guys hit the snot out of the ball in March and go back into hibernation during the regular season, and vice versa.
I can’t imagine many of us had high expectations for Ibanez when the signing was announced, but that would have been true regardless of who they brought in to DH. All of the quality bat-only guys were off the market by the time Jesus Montero was traded away, so the Yankees were stuck picking from a group of old, declining players. True Yankee™ Johnny Damon wasn’t guaranteed to perform any better even though he probably made a little more sense. If they have to cut Ibanez at some point, they’ll do it. Simple as that. He’ll get some time to prove himself, and if he doesn’t they’ll find someone else. The Yankees survived a below average DH situation last year, and they have more than enough firepower to do it again.