The Mariners made it official with Raul Ibanez Wednesday, signing the 40-year-old outfielder and now three-time club member to a one-year contract worth a reported $2.75 million. The deal is laden with $1.25 million in incentives tied to plate appearances and creates a crowded situation at the corner outfield and first base/DH slots.
The Mariners now have newcomers Ibanez, Kendrys Morales and Jason Bay available to play first base and fill the designated hitter role, along with holdovers Justin Smoak, Jesus Montero, John Jaso and Mike Carp. Ibanez has played 136 games at first in his 17 seasons, and is willing to man the spot if that’s what the Mariners require.
Along with Michael Saunders, Bay, Casper Wells and Eric Thames, who joined the club late last season, Ibanez is also one of five corner outfielders available to the Mariners, who may be in the market to make a trade with the acquisitions and Ibanez, Bay and Morales.
If he isn’t dealt, certainly Smoak figures to lose playing time to Ibanez and Morales. After batting .200 or worse in four of 2012′s first five months (during which the club banished him to AAA Tacoma for 20 games), the 26-year-old broke out of his inertia and hit .341 with five homers and 11 RBIs in September.
The Mariners have to decide whether Smoak, a career .210 hitter at Safeco Field, has finally turned things around or whether September represented another in an irritating spate of teases.
The Mariners lose nothing — well, very little — in adding Ibanez to the 40-man roster. To make room, they designated RHP D.J. Mitchell and now have 10 days trade, release or outright him to the minors.
“We spoke of adding some veteran presence to our ball club this off season,” said GM Jack Zduriencik. “In Raul, we have a player and person with outstanding leadership skills who has participated in postseason play the last several years. We will give Raul the opportunity to come in an compete and add an additional veteran presence to this ball club.”
Ibañez appeared in a Seattle uniform from 1996-2000 and 2004-2008. He still ranks among the top 10 in club history in nearly every offensive category, including home runs (127, 7th), RBIs (547, 7th), extra-base hits (341, 7th), hits (967, 8th), games played (986, 8th) and slugging percentage (.464, 9th).
In his four seasons since last appearing for Seattle (2009-2012), Ibañez averaged 30 doubles, 22 home runs, 80 RBIs and 141 games played a season with the Philadelphia Phillies (2009-2011) and New York Yankees (2012).
Ibanez didn’t quite hit those numbers with the Yankees, batting .240 with 19 doubles, three triples, 19 home runs and 62 RBIs in 130 games while playing 80 games (65 starts) in left, 23 at DH and 13 in right (11 starts).
But in eight postseason games he hit .318 with three home runs and five RBIs, and really stood out in Game 3 of the ALCS vs. Baltimore when he hit a game-tying pinch-hit solo homer in the bottom of the ninth and a walk-off shot in the bottom of the 12th.
Ibañez became the first player in history to hit two score-tying or go-ahead home runs in the ninth inning or later in one postseason game.
Ibanez is the all-time home run hitter at Safeco Field (66) and ranks second in extra-base hits.