Eleven years ago, Raul Ibanez was allowed to depart as a free agent from the Kansas City Royals, in part because the front office felt that he was too old to receive the three year contract that he desired. Now, after being released by the Los Angeles Angels and at age 42, Ibanez is back in Kansas City, with the team that gave him his first opportunity to be an every day player.
It is certainly a great story, as the former fan favorite has been plucked off the scrap heap to provide veteran leadership to a young team. Ibanez also has playoff experience, something that only three other members of the Royals can claim. If this was a Hollywood script, Ibanez would still have some magic left in his bat, which would reawaken as he leads the Royals to a playoff berth for the first time in 29 years.
Unfortunately, real life frequently does not happen in the ways that Hollywood would lead us to think. Ibanez was hitting at a .157/.258/.265 rate this season for the Angels, with three home runs and five doubles. Somewhat surprisingly, Ibanez has also legged out two triples and stolen three bases, suggesting that there may be some life left in his legs.
It is easy to point to how Ibanez performed last season and think that his slow start is just a prolonged slump, the type of which the Royals are far too familiar with, given the performances of Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas. After all, in 2013, Ibanez hit at a .242/.306/.487 rate with 29 home runs. Even at age 41, Ibanez was still a potent bat in the lineup, hitting almost 30 home runs despite playing in the cavernous confines of Safeco Field. He could not have lost his ability that quickly, right?
Even with his excellent, and historic, 2013 campaign, there were warning signs that the end may be near for Raul Ibanez. Over the final two months of the season, Ibanez only produced a .218/.307/.391 batting line, hitting five home runs. While Ibanez was still able to draw walks, he also struck out 42 times in 136 at bats over that time frame. In fact, Ibanez saw his strikeout percentage spike from 15.8% in 2012 to 25.8% in 2013. Was that a sign that his bat had been slowing down, and he was cheating for the fastball?
Coming in at the veteran’s minimum for the rest of the season, there is virtually no risk to signing Ibanez. If he has nothing left, the Royals can get rid of him should they find someone else to come in and play the outfield. If it works out, then the Royals found that power bat that they desperately need for essentially pocket change. Ibanez is the perfect lottery ticket, with almost no risk and the potential for a large reward.
If Raul Ibanez has anything left, the Royals are going to try to get it out of him. The only question is whether or not Ibanez has any life left in that bat. If he does, then maybe Ibanez gets that Hollywood ending after all.