In the midst of a lost season, Raul Ibanez remains one of the most driven of the Seattle Mariners, a man whose work ethic doesn't change month to month, week to week or even day to day.
And this month, Ibanez has gone from solid to stratospheric – with 15 RBI over his last five games.
That's put the 36-year-old outfielder in line for his third consecutive 100-RBI season, entering the second week of August with a .290 average, 18 home runs and 78 RBI.
Which leads to just one of the many questions facing the franchise – can it keep Ibanez, who will become a free agent at years end?
Certainly not at the salary Ibanez makes now. At $5.5 million per season, he's eighth on the Mariners payroll list, behind Ichiro Suzuki, Adrian Beltre Jarrod Washburn, Carlos Silva, Erik Bedard, Miguel Batista and Kenji Johjjima.
Ibanez has never complained.
Asked earlier this year about what he expects in the off-season, he said he wanted a four-year-contract, and though he's likely to get an offer or two in that range, a three-year deal seems more like what Seattle would request.
For how much? The bidding for a man coming off three consecutive 100-RBI seasons – and being a good citizen and clubhouse force, to boot – would probably start in the $10-$11 million a year range.
Money isn't supposed to be a problem for the Mariners next year as they try to rebuild and compete. The issue is, at the moment, who will be allowed to spend it.
Manager Jim Riggleman says he'd love to have Ibanez back – "who wouldn't," he asked – but Riggleman may not be back, so his opinion may not matter. Similarly, general manager Lee Pelekoudas will finish the season, but knows the job is wide open to competition beyond that.
Ibanez and the team could discuss a contract extension, although it now seems fairly late in the game for the Mariners to be making those overtures. Johjima, for example, signed his three-year extension in April.
And he's not even a starter, any more.
Far more likely, Ibanez will test the market and list to offers, including one from Seattle this winter. For a team that knows it must add punch to its lineup for 2009, losing Ibanez would only mean the Mariners need to add yet another bat.