Here comes Ibañez back, sources say

Staff writerDecember 23, 2012 

The Seattle Mariners have decided to call on a familiar name to hopefully be a leader on their team full of youngsters.

On Saturday, a source within the Mariners confirmed that the team had reached an agreement with outfielder Raul Ibañez on a one-year contract. Several reports said Ibañez will make $2.75 million next season.

This will be Ibañez’s third stint with the Mariners. But at age 40, what role could he possibly have on this team?

The Mariners are hoping that he provides veteran leadership in the clubhouse. A tireless worker, who is maniacal about preparation, the hope is for Ibañez to serve as an example and a mentor to the wealth of young players on the roster.

In the field, Ibañez would likely be a reserve used for pinch hitting and spot starts at designated hitter and emergency situations in the outfield.

That was supposed to be his role with the Yankees in 2012. But injuries to Brett Gardner and later Mark Texeiera caused Ibañez to play in a platoon role in left field and at DH for much of the season.

He appeared in 130 games in 2012, hitting .240 with 19 homers and 62 RBI. Baseball fans will remember his heroics in Game 3 of the American League Division Series against Baltimore. He hit a tying ninth-inning home run and a 12th inning walk-off home run against the Orioles.

The Mariners will need to make a corresponding move to clear room for Ibañez on the 40-man roster. But the Mariners weren’t ready to make that move on Saturday night. Another possible trade could be slowing that decision.

The Mariners have several first base/outfielder/DH types on the 40-man roster. However, manager Eric Wedge will go to spring training with limited expectations for the frequently injured Franklin Gutierrez, an everyday player before the past two seasons, and recent signee Jason Bay, who has had his injury issues. Players such as Justin Smoak and Eric Thames have Triple-A options remaining if needed. Meanwhile, Casper Wells and Mike Carp could be trade bait or roster casualties in the spring.

Ibañez was a 36th-round draft pick in the 1992 amateur draft by the Mariners and made his big-league debut on Aug. 1, 1996.

In 10 seasons with the Mariners (1996-2000, 2004-2008), Ibañez hit .284 with 127 home runs. If Ibañez appears in a game in the 2013 season, he’ll join Mike Blowers (1992-95, 1997, 1999), Norm Charlton (1993, 1995-97, 2001) and Jeff Nelson (1992-95, 2001-03, 2005) as three-time players for the Mariners.

He ranks among the franchise’s all-time leaders in nearly every offensive category, including home runs (127, seventh), RBI (547, seventh), extra base hits (341, seventh), hits (967, eighth), games played (986, eighth) and slugging percentage (.464, ninth).

ryan.divish@ thenewstribune.com

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