Earlier today, the World Champion Philadelphia Phillies signed Raul Ibanez to be their everyday left fielder. While Ibanez is a very good and underrated hitter who has been overlooked throughout his career playing in smaller markets, I think the Phillies made a mistake by signing a player who doesn't seem to fit their needs.
If you look at Ibanez's numbers from last season, he was very productive, and may have even been better than outgoing left fielder Pat Burrell. Ibanez hit .293 with 23 homers and 110 RBI to go along with a .353 OPB and .479 slugging percentage.
Burrell's numbers were: .250 BA, 33 HR, 86 RBI, .367 OBP, and .507 SLG.
The same trends hold over the past few years, with Ibanez consistently hitting for a higher average and driving in more runs than Burrell, but with Burrell maintaining better on-base and slugging percentages and hitting more home runs.
I'm not one to worry too much about how many home runs a guy hits, because if he's driving in runs, he's getting the job done. Ibanez has knocked in 338 in the past three seasons, so he has certainly done that.
But by the same token, since Burrell is much better at drawing walks, he is on base even more than Ibanez, so the batting averages don't seem to be as important as you may think. Also, since Burrell has been hitting behind Ryan Howard, who has more RBI than anybody the past three years, he has had fewer opportunities to knock in runs when he is not hitting homers.
Ibanez is a bit of a better defensive outfielders than Burrell, although Burrell is more solid out there than he is normally given credit for. One facet of Burrell's game that hurts more than anything is his astounding lack of speed. One of the slowest players I've ever seen.
Based on his past production, clubhouse presence, and sentimentality, I would have preferred to have kept Burrell. However, even if the Phillies had decided already to move on from Burrell, there are two major reasons why I feel Ibanez is a questionable signing.
The main reason is that Ibanez is yet another left-handed bat that will be added into an already lefty-dominated batting order. The Phillies' two main power hitters, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, are already lefties, and they really needed to have a right-handed power bat in the line-up, Burrell or otherwise.
It will be a challenge for manager Charlie Manuel to come up with an adequate line-up to split up the lefties, so that opponents can't bring in left-handed relievers to retire all three in order.
Utley will miss the beginning of the season following surgery, and it's unclear for now who will replace him. Pedro Feliz will likely be replaced mainly by Greg Dobbs until he is healthy.
When everyone is healthy, I would suggest a line-up of Rollins-Victorino-Utley-Howard-Werth-Ibanez-Feliz-Ruiz. However, this would put a ton of pressure on Jayson Werth to protect Howard, given that he is a guy who just had his breakout last year. Another way would be to reverse Werth and Victorino, but Shane really isn't enough of a power threat to hit behind Howard, and this would also negate some of his speed.
With that said, I still prefer this line-up to some of the previous proposals that featured a left field platoon featuring Juan Rivera, Rocco Baldelli or Jerry Hairston joining Geoff Jenkins and Matt Stairs. Those were awful proposals that would have placed a lot of mediocre players in key positions, so at least in this case the Phils have added a proven everyday run producer.
The other reason I'm skeptical of this trade is Ibanez's age. He will turn 37 on June 2, whereas Burrell just turned 32. That five years is a major difference, and it remains to be seen how productive a 37-year old can be on a daily basis.
Not only is it unclear how productive he can be this year, but it's a three-year deal, meaning the Phillies are banking on production through the age of 39. I'm hopeful that it will happen, but there's only so many Jamie Moyers out there.
Since the Phillies gave Ibanez $10 million a year, a very reasonable amount, they are actually saving money from what they had been paying Burrell last year, so the age factor is a calculated risk. Even if he can give them only two good years, it still can't be considered an awful deal, and they can use some of that extra money to go after more pitching help.
Of course, as a Phillies fan, I am very hopeful that Ibanez will be a big piece in a title defense, and as a baseball fan, I'm very aware of what a good player he is. Until I see the team in action though, I'm not convinced this is a good fit. I'm certainly willing to give it time to see how it goes, and the rest of the offseason will still have a huge say in how the '09 Phillies look.