Raul Ibanez is killing the Phillies. I know, I know, there are a number of Phillies that are “killing the Phillies” right now: Jayson Werth, Chase Utley, the shortstop du jour, Greg Dobbs, etc.
But the difference is that the aforementioned players (with the exception of Dobbs) have contributed at some point this year and/or will contribute in the future.
Werth is in one of his “can’t-hit-any-pitch-that-any-righty-throws-me” modes, and Utley is experiencing an uncharacteristic early season slump, but both are talented players in their primes that will assuredly snap out of these funks and go back to raking.
Juan Castro is a cheap utility man and Wilson Valdez is an even cheaper utility man. Defensively, each has done an adequate job filling in for Jimmy Rollins, but they are the walking definitions of “replacement player.”
(Dobbs is 1-for-21 as a pinch-hitter this year, was 9-for-54 in that role last year, but nobody wants to give up on him because he had a good run as a bench bat in 2008. Cuz, ya know, we have SO MUCH evidence to show that 2008 was the real Greg Dobbs, and every other year of his career wasn’t. Whatever, that’s a topic for another day.)
Unlike the other slumping Phillies, Ibanez has contributed absolutely nothing since June 1, 2009.
Raul endeared himself to this fanbase last year by putting together a miraculous April and May, but has hit .234 since with one homer every 30 plate appearances. Wanna take a look at some more ugly numbers?
- Ibanez’ slugging percentage in 2010 is .371, lower than David Eckstein, Jeff Keppinger, Will Venable, Jeff Francoeur, and Gaby Sanchez.
- He is 85th in the NL in batting average, 65th in on-base percentage, and 70th in slugging percentage.
- His OPS+ this year is 89 (100 is league average.)
- Ibanez has eight multi-hit games this season (played 54.)
- Ibby has been worth 0.2 wins BELOW replacement, and his WAR is 20th out of the 24 NL leftfielders with 100 or more plate appearances
And to top it all off, Ibanez has been the fourth worst defensive leftfielder in major league baseball this season – ahead of only Carlos Lee, Ryan Braun, and Lastings Milledge.
We’re not imagining his struggles.
From a baseball standpoint – and from a logical standpoint - there is no reason Raul Ibanez deserves to play everyday on a contending team. He has been awful at the plate and terrible in the field. Yet he continues to bat sixth everyday while the Phillies top prospect, who also happens to be a corner outfielder, is putting on a clinic in the pitcher-friendly Eastern League.
Domonic Brown is hitting .313/.382/.587 with 10 homers and 33 RBI for Reading. His .969 OPS leads the Eastern League, his .313 batting average is fifth, his ten homers are sixth, as are his 105 total bases. And I reiterate, Brown has done so in a pitcher’s league in which the collective ERA of the twelve teams is 4.06.
For weeks, I’ve been trying to figure out a peaceful solution to this problem. Ruben Amaro finds himself in a self-inflicted predicament, because Ibanez’ full no-trade clause all-but prevents the Phillies from sending him away and eating salary.
(Honestly, it wouldn’t matter if Ibby didn’t have a full NTC, because his age and lack of value would have been enough to make reluctant all 29 potential trade partners.)
So release him. Cut ties with an expensive underperfomer. Amaro did so twice last year, when he released Geoff Jenkins and Adam Eaton. The Phils cut Jenkins while paying his $6.75M salary in ’09, plus an additional $1.25M club buyout for 2010. Eaton, too, earned a hefty chunk of change upon his release – $9.15M to be exact. All told, the Phils paid $17.15M for the right to rid themselves of two underperformers with bad contracts.
Ibanez is in the second year of a three-year, $31.5M deal of which he has already collected about fourteen million dollars. Subtract 14 million from 31.5 million and what do you get? 17.5 million, or just about exactly the amount of dead money the Phillies gave out to Jenkins and Eaton last year.
Financially, releasing Ibanez is no worse than releasing those two, and while consecutive years of dead money may be hard for a GM to explain to his superiors, it’s better than paying a player to hurt your team.
This is not an overreaction. These are not the exagerrated words of a WIP caller. There is no impulse or emotion guiding my thought process. Ibanez has been a black hole in the Phillies lineup for a year, and if his two-month hot streak took place at any time other than his first two months here, none of us would feel much of an attachment to him.
Is there ANY logical reason to keep him? Let’s take a look at the possible counter-arguments to cutting ties with Ibanez.
1) “He was great last year, you can’t cut him”
Response: No he wasn’t. He had two great months, one horrible month, and three average months. Plus, last year doesn’t matter anyway. Ibanez is a year older now, and 38 year-olds don’t typically rejuvenate as seasons wear on. He’s had three more awful months this season and is providing less value than 19 other left fielders on the fifteen other NL teams.
Just as Dobbs’ 2008 was an apparition, Ibanez’ April-May 2009 was an unsustainable, fluky time period that we only believed in because it coincided with our introduction to him. Does it make any sense at all to put more stock into the 210 plate appearances in April-May ’09 than in his 560 plate appearances since?
2) “He’s a veteran and a good clubhouse guy.”
Response: So was Ken Griffey Jr. before he retired. So is Nick Punto. So was Clay Condrey. And Tomas Perez. And I’m sure Kevin Sefcik enjoyed patting his teammates on the back. Can we talk about baseball, though? And not ponies and unicorns riding in fields of daisies?
3) “He’s making too much money. Can’t give up on him for that reason alone.”
Response: So, because he is still due about seventeen million dollars, you have to pay him that and allow him to hurt the Phillies by going 2-for-every-9, pulling up short on balls other outfielders would get to, and clogging up the basepaths?
Oliver Perez is making a similar amount of money with the Mets, and they finally had the sense to stop pitching him every fifth day. Things got so bad that they sent him on a phantom DL trip. There is absolutely no need to let a player’s contract handcuff you in more ways than one.
4) “Just designate Greg Dobbs for assignment and move Raul to the bench.”
Response: You could do that. But it would mean having a five man bench that consists of three outfielders: Ibanez, Ben Francisco, and Ross Gload. Sure, Gload can technically play first base, but how many times would you sit Ryan Howard in favor of Gload? Dobbs, despite all of his struggles, can still play a slightly-below-average first, second, third, left field, and right field.
Plus, releasing a player with $17M left on his contract is still more realistic than making that player a $17M pinch-hitter. You coerce Raul to waive his no-trade clause, and if he doesn’t imply, you give him the outright release. Let him spread his wings and fly back to Seattle, a team so desperately in need of an offensive upgrade that they would probably take him back.
5) “Domonic Brown isn’t ready to step in and play everyday in the major leagues.”
Response: What does he have left to prove? Does he have to take his .313/.382/.587 slash-line up to Triple-A and show that he can also hit against washed up former major league pitchers? The Eastern League and its 4.06 ERA is every bit as much of a test as anything the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs face.
Brown is a dynamic left-handed hitter with fleet feet and a much better glove than Ibanez. He is no less ready at this exact moment than he will be in March 2011.
Bringing Brown up and inserting him into the six-hole would add a much-needed spark, help break up the monotonous stagnancy this lineup is prone to, and allow the Phillies to see what they have in him, in order to better judge what their move will be in the offseason (re: Jayson Werth.)
I am not deeming Domonic Brown the savior to a team that has fallen to 11th in the NL in runs scored, nor am I saying that his wampum stick will definitively play in The Show.
I am merely explaining that anybody – literally…any replacement player – would be more valuable than Raul Ibanez right now, and when you couple the bleak outlook for Ibby with the fact that the Phils’ top prospect plays the same position, the answer is very simple.
If it’s not so simple to you, please give me one good reason the Phillies should continue to send out a slow, overmatched 38-year old corner outfielder who has done nothing in the last year other than bounce balls to the right side of the infield.
And no, “being a good guy,” or “being part of the 2009 NL Champs,” doesn’t count.