The Phillies say they have a better lineup and a better team today because Raul Ibanez is in left field.
Ibanez hopes this is true, and he hopes the Phillies can defend their World Series championship in 2009, because it sure looked like a lot of fun when he watched it on TV in October.
"You could feel the energy coming through the television," Ibanez said during an introductory news conference yesterday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park. "As a professional, I can't remember the last time I watched something on television and I got goose bumps. Even when I talk about it now, watching that energy was tremendous. I can't imagine being part of it."
The Phillies have signed Ibanez, 36, to a three-year, $31.5 million contract. He will make $8.5 million in 2009, including a $2 million signing bonus, and $11.5 million in 2010 and 2011.
Ibanez hit .293 with 43 doubles, 23 home runs and 110 RBIs last season for the Seattle Mariners. He hit .305 against lefthanders and .288 against righthanders, which is relevant because Ibanez hits lefthanded and figures to hit somewhere in the middle of the lineup with Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, who also hit lefthanded.
Ibanez has hit .305 with runners in scoring position in his career.
"One of the issues that we had was hitting with runners in scoring position, making contact and being able to drive in the runs we're supposed to drive in," Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said.
"I think he certainly fits the bill there. Not that Pat [Burrell] was the one guilty of it. As a team we just didn't do very well with runners in scoring position, driving in runs with less than two outs or with a man on third base. Any time we can add a player who can advance the cause there, I think it's an improvement."
Ibanez has 338 RBIs over the last three seasons, which ranks 12th in baseball. Howard ranks first (431 RBIs) and Utley ranks 20th (309), which means the Phillies have three of the top 20 RBI producers in baseball over the last three years. Only three outfielders - Magglio Ordonez, Carlos Beltran and Matt Holliday - have had more RBIs than Ibanez in that span.
But besides being a run producer, Ibanez is known throughout baseball for an incredible work ethic and the positive influence he has on a clubhouse.
His work ethic helped him become somewhat of a rarity in professional sports: an athlete who got better as he got older. Ibanez did not become an everyday player in the big leagues until 2002, when he was a 30-year-old with the Kansas City Royals. He thinks that work ethic has helped him feel fresher and kept him productive.
"That's exactly how I feel about it," he said. "That's exactly how I felt when I was 30. Guys kept telling me, 'Wait until you're 30. You can't train that hard when you're 30.' Then I heard, 'When you hit 35, those day games after night games are going to be killers.' So, finally, I talked to Edgar Martinez about it. I said, 'Edgar, what is this thing about 35? Everyone talks about 35. What is this? At 35 I feel just as the same as I did when I was 30.' . . . Edgar said to me in his super-wise way - it's like going to Yoda, you know? - he said, 'That's for the guys that don't work as hard as we do.' He told me his best years were after 35. His best year was when he was 37."
Ibanez is aware that some wonder how long a 36-year-old can remain productive. He considers it a challenge.
"I love hearing it," he said. "It's one of the things I enjoy because I know that I can continue to be productive. I know this. The good Lord has blessed me with ability. He's blessed me with what I believe to be an incredible work ethic, and an incredible drive to attempt to succeed, no matter what. So I think I can continue doing this for a while. As a man, I couldn't have come here unless I was able to do that."
Ibanez said he hopes people are pleasantly surprised with his defense. The Phillies have said they feel Ibanez is adequate enough defensively to play all nine innings. Charlie Manuel frequently removed Burrell late in the game for defensive purposes.
Ibanez aims to continue being a big-time run producer and consistent hitter. He has hit .318 (7 for 22) with four RBIs in his career against new New York Mets closer Francisco Rodriguez. Asked if he wanted to make any statements about the Mets-Phillies rivalry (such as "We're the team to beat"), Ibanez politely declined.
"I'm a pretty boring guy," he said.
That's all right. If he hits like he hit the last three seasons with the Mariners, no one will mind.
Five newcomers have joined the Phillies' player development staff: Ernie Whitt, Chris Truby, Bob Milacki, Aris Tirado and former Phillies bullpen coach Ramon Henderson.
Whitt, who spent 15 years in the majors as a catcher, will manage single-A Clearwater. Henderson will join him as a coach. Milacki will be single-A Lakewood's pitching coach. Truby will manage single-A Williamsport. Tirado will be a pitching coach for the rookie-level Gulf Coast League Phillies.
Bunting and baserunning coordinator P.J. Forbes left the organization to take a managing job in Pittsburgh's farm system.