Raul Ibanez has risen to the top in keeping the Yankees from the bottom of the A.L. East
There were other choices.
Many New York Yankee fans clamored for heroes of the past. Johnny Damon was waiting for the call, and Hideki Matsui, the World Series RBI machine, remained a free agent.
Vladimir Guerrero openly lobbied for the available designated hitter role.
Quietly, in the background, Raul Ibanez remained ready and ultimately became Yankee GM Brian Cashman's choice.
It seemed like the perfect marriage. The left-handed slugger would be the DH complement to right-handed hitter Andruw Jones. Both were adequate in the outfield should the situation call them to action, and both provided veteran leadership and poise in pressure situations.
The honeymoon with Ibanez was brief as he struggled through spring training, hitting just .150 and striking out 14 times in 60 at-bats.
April provided no relief for the former Philadelphia Phillies outfielder as his March woes carried into the regular season. Two weeks into 2012 Ibanez's batting average sat at .158 with an embarrassing .227 on-base percentage.
Patiently, manager Joe Girardi stuck with Ibanez while fans restlessly gnawed on their fingernails wondering if the Bombers had once again thrown money ($1.1 million for one year) at a player who would wind up on the bench or released.
That patience has paid off. The hard-working designated hitter/outfielder has turned his season around and, quite possibly, saved the Yankee's year as well.
Where would the Yankees be without Raul Ibanez?
Since "bottoming out," Ibanez has raised his average to .275 and his OBP to .333. He is third on the team in RBI and leads the Yankees in slugging percentage (.535).
More importantly, as the Yankees continue to limp through their schedule with much-documented troubles hitting with runners in scoring position, Ibanez's .256 RISP average is second on the team (behind Derek Jeter).
In one seven-game stretch in which Ibanez played from May 6-14, the Yankees went 5-2. In those games he drove in 10 runs and hit four HR. Of those five wins, his RBI either tied the game, put the team ahead, or were the difference in the final result four times. Two of those games were against division rival Tampa Bay.
Nine times overall Ibanez has delivered in those situations noted above.
Clearly the man has earned his keep.
It is also clear the other choices now pale in comparison to the one that the New York Yankees settled upon. Cleveland Indian Damon is hitting .105 with RISP while Matsui and Guerrero have yet to play in 2012.
It is safe to say Ibanez has made a positive difference. At the very least, he is already responsible for four of the Yankees' wins.
Given that the team is currently just three games ahead of last-place Boston, one can deduce Ibanez is the lifeline that has kept the team in contention in the competitive American League East Division. Without him, the Yankees sit at the bottom of the heap, 6.5 games behind the Rays and Orioles.
In a season wrought with questionable moves and highly publicized injuries, Raul Ibanez has become the New York Yankees' diamond in the rough.