Ibanez signs three-year deal with Mariners

Updated: November 20, 2003, 12:14 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

SEATTLE -- Free-agent outfielder Raul Ibanez signed a three-year, $13.25 million contract with the Seattle Mariners, general manager Bill Bavasi announced Wednesday.

While some may question why the Mariners did this, from a fantasy sense, this is also not great news for Ibanez's stats. All 2003 Ibanez owners were clinging to the dreams of those two months in 2002 when the left-handed hitter was simply awesome, knocking in 59 runs that July and August (but only 44 the other four months). Truth is, he's merely an ordinary fantasy outfielder. Last year Ibanez had 18 homers and 90 RBI in 608 at-bats and finished an even No. 100 on ESPN.com's Player Rater, right beside Angel Berroa, Bill Mueller and Jorge Posada. But Ibanez is an outfielder, where 18 and 90 are not as special. Now take these numbers and send him back to Seattle, where some offensive players go to die. Ibanez might still hit .290, might still score 90 runs and swipe a few bags, but you can find 30 outfielders more in demand on draft day 2004.
-- Eric Karabell

Ibanez, who came up in Seattle's system but saw limited action with the Mariners from 1996-2000, blossomed over the past two years in Kansas City, where he hit .294 both years.

He drove in 103 runs in 2002 and 90 last season.

"When I first realized I was coming back here, I was ecstatic," said Ibanez, drafted by Seattle in the 36th round in 1992. "It didn't really hit me until I walked in the locker room yesterday."

Ibanez gets a $2 million signing bonus, $3.25 million in 2004, $3.75 million in 2005 and $4.25 million in 2006.

General manager Bill Bavasi, on the job less than two weeks, wasn't surprised to learn during briefings that the club was interested in Ibanez. A left-handed pull hitter should be a big bonus.

"I know he's been in their sights for a while. We're thrilled to have him here," Bavasi said.

The addition of Ibanez gives the Mariners four solid outfielders, though it's uncertain if free agent Mike Cameron will return after winning a Gold Glove in center last season.

Mariners manager Bob Melvin said he was happy to add Ibanez to the roster.

"Raul is a perfect fit for our ballclub," Melvin said. "He's got a great swing for our stadium and I'm glad we were able to bring him back."

It is unclear how Seattle's outfield plans will shake out. At the moment, the Mariners' options would be to start Ibanez in left field and move Randy Winn to center (Winn played center for the Devil Rays, his former team), with Ichiro Suzuki holding down right, or move Ichiro to center and start Ibanez in right.

Winn, who played in left last season, and Suzuki both are arbitration-eligible. "This was about adding offense," Bavasi said. "This guy was made for this ballpark. He's a real good fit. This does not impact Mike or anybody else. This decision is independent of any others."

Cameron is a free agent, but it's not clear if Seattle plans to re-sign him. If that happens, Winn might be a trading chip or a non-tender. Winn is arbitration-eligible and likely will make upwards of $5 million in 2004.

"If we can get Cammy back, too, that's a huge move for our pitchers," one Seattle player told the Seattle Times.

Ibanez has performed well at Safeco as a member of the Royals, hitting .381 with five home runs over the past three seasons. He feels his tendency to hit line drives contributed to his success in Seattle.

"If you hit balls in that big left-center gap, the ball hangs," he said.

Ibanez, who hit the first grand slam in Safeco Field history on July 17, 1999, said he simply likes the way it feels when he steps into the batter's box at the ballpark.

"I like that it's a wide-open field," he said. "Some parks you just like. You go to certain parks and feel things are all centered. I like the way it feels here."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.