Raul Ibanez (above) isn't exactly the toast of major league outfielding. But he's blossomed of late, worth considering as the Phils posture before the trade deadline.
We're used to Raul Ibanez being problematic. Disappointing at the plate. Liable in the field. A hummer-sized guzzler of green.
We're used to Raul Ibanez being problematic.
But never like this.
Never like his six RBI in a 14-1 win over the Braves yesterday—his and everyone's closing arguments before the All-Star Break, the line of demarcation for trading deadline considerations. GMs have to squeeze all dealing in before July 31, but now serves an opportune down time for self-inventorying:
What do we need? And what do we have?
From Ibanez, that's never been something.
Never like this series, where at the least, he met minimum standards. At best, he vaulted the Phils in their 3-2 win with a 10th inning, walk-off homer that bore semblance to the clutch you've wanted from greater Phils all year.
For one half of baseball's worst corner outfielding tandem to inch toward reputability, it would take spectacularily. You got that this weekend, with a garnish of hustle plays and contagious gamesmanship you can't slap value on.
Now, strangely and near-sacrilegiously, he matters.
He's only hit .241 on the year, hamstrung by a .161 April. It's only been a week and a half, but July is looking more like May—he hit .315 in his second month—than June, when he gimped along at .211. In a "what have you done for me lately?" sport grounded in stats, his .286 satisfies.
Doesn't stuff your gut, but doesn't leave you hungry, either.
Isn't that the allure to Michael Cuddyer? The object of Philly fans' obsession of late has hit .298 on the year with only two more home runs (13) and four fewer RBI (43). He's not a franchise-changer, but a serviceable stopgap to plug an apparent need.
If Ibanez can maintain his of-late production, they're comparable.
The difference, though, is you have Ibanez. You'd have to get Cuddyer, the take that's not worth the give of Vance Worley, Antonio Bastardo, Dom Brown, a handful of prospects, some permutation therein—all of which Minnesota could use or would want.
That's what you mull in times like these. Is what I've seen worth what I think I will? In other words: Does Raul Ibanez ease worry enough to justify holding off on a right-handed outfielder?
For the price, sure. But anybody worth having would pluck talent from the depleted farm system or oft-used bench.
And for Cuddyer, take on another $10.5 million.
That's not worth it for Cuddyer, the only one implicated in trade rumors and a free agent at year's end. Or for a guy who'd stay—for a lot more coin than the hundreds of thousands the others make.
There's legitimate credence in the pro-Ibanez argument. Take his .247 average with runners in scoring position. Not much to write home or on B/R about, except for that there's no drop-off between that and his batting average.
That says Ibanez is somewhat reliable. He can't transcend, but he doesn't wilt, either.
You'll take that, like you took Jayson Werth last year. The season that milked a seven-year, $126 million deal from Washington stacked up to a .296 average with 27 home runs and 85 RBI (Ibanez is on pace for 22 home runs and 84 RBI).
Leveling with you this: Raul Ibanez isn't worth any offseason's fattest wad of contractual cash. He's hardly earned the three-year, $31 million deal he inked in 2008.
That's part of the problem. Fuzzy as this mid-year wrinkle feels, it doesn't tempt anyone to take on Ibanez's $11 million. At least not without the Phillies wolfing down sunk money like Joey Chestnut at Coney Island.
You can't move him. So live with him.
Continue to bat Ibanez fifth and hope Dom Brown's trajectory offers a threat enough to polish the pitches Ibanez sees. It should be noted: He's hit .274 in 2011 from the five hole, left unprotected by and proven inconsequential because of hitters who can't at No. 6 and beyond.
Makes you wonder what you can get from Ibanez, no lesser a player than Pat Burrell or Cody Ross before they conjured greatness in last year's World Series. Is that gleaning my forecast for Ibanez's October?
The other facets of Ibanez's game aren't as questionable. Say what you want about his noodle arm, as sturdy as spaghetti on the witness stand and worth only three assists this year.
But save for one error, he's been perfect.
That gets lost in snowballing frustration that's mounted in his time in Philly. I get that.
But he's as reliable an outfielder as any right fielder in baseball, only separated by one-hundredth of a point from No. 3 in the National League.
Is Raul Ibanez the answer? Probably not.
But he's at least a consideration—far more than he's been in a while.