Raul Ibanez will decline binding salary arbitration today and, for the second time in his career, leave the Seattle Mariners.
The first time was even less appetizing – the Mariners simply let Ibanez go after the 2000 season, and Kansas City signed him as a free agent. As a Royal, Ibanez got the chance to play regularly, and he blossomed.
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Lou Piniella, who saw the drive but never the payoff in Seattle, was in favor of letting Ibanez go in 2000. When he watched Ibanez play for the Royals, he told Mariners scouts he wanted that left-handed bat back.
Ibanez was never the best outfielder, the fastest runner, and his natural abilities wouldn't have gotten him far in the major leagues.
What made Ibanez the player that contending teams – including the World Series champion Phillies – covet was his work ethic. Last year, on a team that lost 101 games, Ibanez played all 162 games.
On a great team, he'd probably be a No. 5 or No. 6 hitter. He didn't have the luxury in Seattle, especially after returning to the team following the '03 season. Instead, Ibanez played left field and batted third some days, fourth in others.
He batted .293 with 23 home runs and 110 RBI last season at age 36. Over 986 career games as a Mariner, Ibanez hit .284.
This time, the Mariners will get a pair of draft picks in return, and hope that he signs with a National League team. One of the reasons the Mariners brought Ibanez back was the damage he did against them in two seasons in Kansas City.
The Mariners will miss more than Ibanez's bat. In a clubhouse where few veterans talked, he was accountable – after good games and bad. He took younger players aside and talked baseball with them. He'd challenge veterans.
And after every game, he hit the weight room to work out.
The Phillies, Cubs, Mets, Rays, Yankees and a half-dozen other teams are pursuing Ibanez, who last year made $5.5 million. He wants a multi-year contract, and the Mariners weren't in position to offer him one.
Someone will, and Ibanez will leave Seattle for a second time. He will be missed