Monday, March 17, 2008

Fantasy Plus: Raul Ibanez

Next up in the Fantasy Plus series, is LF Raul Ibanez.

Ibanez will get his usual 20-25 homers this year. The usually durable player played just 149 games last season due to shoulder and leg issues. Perhaps he is starting to wear down after 10-plus season in the majors. He will a top 50 outfielder on Draft Day, but you will want to watch him closely because of his age and the potential to lose at-bats to younger outfielders in Seattle. As the M's most consistent RBI man, he's a pretty safe bet to be in the lineup somewhere.

Doesn't it seem like the older Ibanez gets, the better he gets with the bat? No, he's not the 33-homer hitter he was in 2006, but in the past six years, he has batted .292 and averaged 22 homers and 95 RBIs, numbers that classify as well above average. Plus, he finished 2007 on an absolute tear, batting .357 with 15 homers and a 1.057 OPS in 55 games after Aug. 1, which puts to rest the theory that a career decline is around the corner. Once the elite outfielders are gone, it's nice to know a consistent guy like this is there for the taking.

Truthfully, there's never been anything wrong with Ibanez. He's a career .283 hitter with 20-homer, 90-RBI pedigree. Of course, in a landscape where every Tom, Dick, and Harry is searching for the next five-tool rookie or emerging 40-homer stud, those numbers lack, well, excitement, and Ibanez lacks even one iota of what the kids are calling "upside." A funny thing has happened in June, however. Mr. Boring has suddenly turned into Mr. Slightly Less Boring But I Play in Seattle So I Still Can't Get Any Respect. In June alone, Raul is hitting .444, slugging .889, and has a whopping 1.411 OPS, which looks even better next to his two homers and nine RBI. He's on pace for a career-defining season of 27 dingers and 121 runs driven in. While it's highly doubtful the veteran has suddenly taken his game to the next level at age 34, there is little denying those who reluctantly selected him on draft day have already enjoyed a much more interesting ride than they bargained for.
My Analysis
Raul Ibanez has quietly been one of the better offensive outfielders in the AL. Sure, he's not glamorous like Manny Ramirez or Carl Crawford int left field, but considering that those guys are top five rounds picks, and Ibanez is a lot of the time never taken. Ibanez, like Beltre, has put up solid, not to mention consistant numbers over the last couple seasons. If his name comes up, don't be afraid to give him a chance.

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