Raul Ibanez Means More Than Numbers for the Seattle Mariners

J.J. MatthewsContributor IIIDecember 24, 2012

SEATTLE - JULY 18:  Raul Ibanez #28 of the Seattle Mariners bats against the Cleveland Indians on July 18, 2008 at Safeco Field in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Signing a free agent can mean a lot for a team.

It can mean signing the new faces of the franchise, much like the Los Angeles Angels in 2011.

It can also cripple a franchise in the long run, much like what the New York Yankees face with former Seattle Mariner Alex Rodriguez.

Or it can be the complementary piece that helps leads you to the World Series, much like Aubrey Huff with the San Francisco Giants in 2010.

And then it can be someone like Raul Ibanez.

When news first broke of Ibanez signing with the Seattle Mariners, there were a lot of skeptics as to what kind of impact the newly-signed outfielder would have.

After all, Ibanez didn't necessarily light the world on fire last season. With the Yankees in 2012, Ibanez put up a statline of .240/.308/.453 with 19 homers and 62 RBI.

Much to the dismay of the Mariner faithful, those numbers would still have been an improvement over much of last year's offensive production.

The problem with those numbers? Ibanez was platooning almost specifically against right-handed pitchers. Out of Raul's 384 at-bats last season, 323 of those came against right-handers, in which he still only hit .248/.319/.492.

The bigger problem with those numbers? Ibanez is no longer capable of playing an outfield position at an acceptable rate, which limits him to occasional starts in the outfield with a primary role as a designated hitter.

This leads to the question of why would general manager Jack Zduriencik invest a guaranteed contract into a player like Raul Ibanez, especially when Seattle has two potential full-time designated hitters in Jesus Montero and Kendrys Morales?

Zduriencik invested a guaranteed contract in Raul Ibanez because he is much more valuable than a platoon player. Ibanez is the "it" factor that Seattle has been missing since year one of the Ken Griffey Jr. Farewell Tour.

Manager Eric Wedge and GM Z can try and tell fans and media alike that Raul is being looked at for roughly four positions next season, but does anyone truly expect that?

Ibanez isn't being brought in to be the difference maker, and he isn't being brought in on the $15 million per-year contract to change the course of the franchise.

No, Raul is being brought in to be Raul. A lot of players may not understand that, but there is one very important player who does:

I welcome back to my brother Raul who taught me to be a better player.

— Felix Hernandez (@RealKingFelix) December 23, 2012

Bringing in Raul wasn't a move to increase runs nor was it a move to increase ticket sales. It was a move to bring in leadership. It was a move to bring in a veteran who has truly seen the highs and lows of the Seattle franchise.

Whether it was the 2000 ALCS against the Yankees or the 61 win season of 2008, Raul has been through it all for the Mariners. Honestly, it is only appropriate for Raul to end his career where it started.

Will Raul lead the team in home runs or RBI? Probably not.

He will lead the team in something more important—leadership.

And for players like Dustin Ackley, Kyle Seager, Jesus Montero and Michael Saunders, having Raul around may be more important than anything any coach can ever teach them.

Raul can teach them how to play the game the right way. He can teach them how to lead, and he can teach them how to bring the young Mariners to the next level.

Raul Ibanez will most likely not lead the team in any specific offensive category this season, but then again, Major League Baseball hasn't found a statistic for leadership.

Numbers can't always explain everything.