On April 19th, 2009 newly acquired left fielder Raul Ibanez hit a two-run walk-off home run to help the Phightin Phils beat the San Diego Padres. Later in April Ibanez hit a grand salami during an eighth inning comeback over the Washington Nationals. The Rauuuuuuullllls were loud and often. The man, with tough shoes to fill after phan favorite Pat Burrell departed town, wasted no time grabbing the adoration of the Philly phaithful.
The Rauuuuuuullllls these days are becoming far and few between. At age 38 Ibanez is looking more and more as if age is more than a number. Through almost one month of the 2011 season Ibanez is batting .197 with 21 strikeouts. Below the Mendoza Line is no place any Major League hitter wants to be. After getting off to a decent start through the first six games batting .304 with six RBI’s, things have gone downhill fast.
In the last ten games Raul has managed 5 hits with 13 strikeouts! Last night versus San Diego he was 0-4 with two k’s. Now it is easy to point at the struggles of the entire offense with only two regulars batting above .300, but somebody somewhere needs to provide a spark. The question beckons, what do we do with Raul Ibanez?
In 2009 Ibanez was more than we had hoped from an aging right fielder. At age 37 Raul posted career highs in home runs, slugging percentage, and OPS. As well as being named an All-Star outfielder.
His short career in Philly has been marked with slumps and hot streaks. It seems to be one or the other when it comes to #29. The beginning of his 2010 campaign was off to a slow start as well but he kicked it into high gear in the second half of the season practically carrying an ailing offense.
Ibanez is batting in a critical spot in the five-hole which was previously held down by ex-right fielder Jayson Werth. Werth was a dangerous, right handed, five-hole hitter that forced teams to have to pitch to Howard. With the lack of firepower behind big man Ryan Howard it has caused teams to pitch around him causing Howard to fall into a slump as well.
Ibanez has managed to drive in 10 runs through 19 games but has only managed three extra base hits. His defense has been subpar, at least he moves better than Pat the Bat, right?
Raul’s three year deal that he signed before the 2009 season will be up at the end of the year. Charlie has always been a loyal skipper and is always willing to stick by his players during slumps. I.e. Brad Lidge, Jimmy Rollins, the entire offense in 2010. Will Manuel continue to give Ibanez the nod in left?
Option 1: would be to allow Ibanez to “hit” (I use that term loosely) through his slump. He has proven to be a streaky player in his tenure and will hopefully snap out of it and be a 15-20 HR, 80 RBI bat that we need.
Option 2: let John Mayberry, Jr. get some starts in left field. With limited action in the 2011 season Mayberry is batting .375. On Opening Day, his first ever Opening Day, J-May hit a walk-off shot over the head of Astros outfielder Michael Bourn to drive in the winning run for the Phightin Phils! It was an amazing Opening Day comeback to say the least. J-May’s body of work on the Major League level is small with only 22 professional AB’s. But the former first round pick at 6’6 234 provides a potentially dangerous right handed option for Manuel.
The danger of platooning players is that neither player ever gets an opportunity to find their groove with limited at bats.
Option 3: trade Ibanez. With his contract up at the end of the year and Raul creeping towards 40 it is hard to gauge the interest he would receive on the trade market. A likely destination would be back to the American League as a DH. If the Phillies could pull off a trade they would most likely have to eat the remainder of his $31 million contract. With Domonic Brown beginning his rehab stint the Phillies have viable options to replace Ibanez with Brown, Mayberry, and Ross Gload.
While it still may be too early to write off Raul his early struggles have to be of some concern. With an offense struggling to score a lot of runs, increased production has to come from somewhere. If the struggles of Ibanez continue into early May I would allow Mayberry, Jr. some quality time in left field to see if he can provide an offensive spark. But let us all take a deep breath and remember it is still April. This team is fully capable of scoring a lot of runs and only time will tell if that comes to fruition. It is a long season filled with slumps and hot streaks. We could all be back to screaming Rauuuuuullllll by mid May.