The New York Yankees have their DH situation set, as they signed former Seattle Mariners and Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Raul Ibanez to a one-year deal worth $1.1 million (0.2 WAR). The contract comes with incentives based on plate appearances and can bring Ibanez’s total up to $4 million (0.9 WAR). The Yankees, as usual, made the best choice and chose the designated hitter who best fits their team and current situation.
Raul Ibanez spent his entire career as a left fielder for three different clubs, but he was a horrible defensive player for all of them with a career UZR of -47.6. He costed the teams he played for about 48 runs, and he offers nothing as a baserunner. At the age of 39, Ibanez is on his last legs, but he can still offer something to the Yankees. Signing him was better than the alternative, giving Johnny Damon $5 million to platoon at DH, and Ibanez is a lefty power bat who will feast on Yankee Stadium’s right porch. He is in a good position to bounce back from a terrible 2011 campaign in which he had a 90 wRC+.
The whole idea of this deal is setting a platoon in place, and Raul Ibanez still managed to have an average 101 wRC+ against right-handers last season. He was as bad as it gets, 54 wRC+, in 138 PAs against lefties; but he won’t be exposed to lefties as much in this platoon set-up. In his career, Raul Ibanez has career 122 wRC+ against righties and a 96 wRC+ against lefties. By comparison, Andruw Jones has been mashing lefties over the past three years (151, 149, and 95 wRC+), but he has been a marginal player against righties (just one season in the past five years with a wRC+ over 100).
These two veterans and former outfielders are a perfect match at DH, and this platoon can be successful, provided neither of them are expected to do more. Jones can play in the outfield, as needed, but Raul Ibanez should be safely entrenched as a left-handed power bat who will shred right-handers and the right porch in the DH slot. The Yankees believe that he is better than the other available options defensively and can play a few games in the outfield, but the phrase “a few” must be stressed in this instance.
The main reason for Ibanez’s decline in offensive output last season was because of decreased patience at the plate. He was swinging more often, and that also meant that he was chasing more than he should. This led to a Swstr% of 10%, and pitchers started to catch on and threw less strikes at Raul Ibanez. In short, he had a career low BB% (5.7%) and an 18.4 K%.
A WAR/$ model is not practical when analyzing this contract, because there are too many uncertainties. We have a general idea of what the Yankees are going to do with Raul Ibanez, but there are other factors (such as the presence of Russell Branyan) that make WAR/$ almost useless when analyzing this deal. Ibanez will be in a platoon, so predicting his WAR is a daunting and imperfect task at this point.
In any case, Raul Ibanez is worth this type of contract. $1.1 million is nothing to the Yankees, and the Yanks can always just toss him on the bench if things don’t work out. Then, of course, the incentives won’t kick in, leaving the Yankees just $1.1 million poorer. Nobody will be crying over that loss, and a contending team did what all smart contending teams do; they patch up their roster by making a solid, small acquisition on the cheap.
If this was a team without championship aspirations, then there is room to question this deal. But the Yankees made this deal, and they are undoubtedly a better team than they were before making this deal. Not because Raul Ibanez is a spectacular player, but because he provides value to this team and gives them a nice platoon at DH. He will generate 15-20 home runs for this team and will do what he is asked to do. He won’t have to do much, but it’s always important for a contending team to have a platoon that contains two players who can actually hit the respective handed pitchers that they must face.
Follow Joe Soriano on Twitter here, and be sure to check back on Call to the Pen for season previews of every team, including the New York Yankees. Check out Yanks Go Yard for everything about the Yanks.