How Raul Ibanez Came To Irritate A Well-Meaning Mariners Fan
Every single season, I talk myself into it. When I write those If It Goes Right pieces, they’re daydreams, they’re fantasies, but I mean them sincerely. Every single season, I imagine what it would take for the Mariners to go to the playoffs, and inevitably I conclude that it isn’t too far-fetched. It doesn’t matter what they look like in March, because no team is so bad it has zero probability, and I can’t imagine beginning a season feeling already hopeless. The season’s too long not to be buoyed by hope for at least a little while. How long is the season? Tom Wilhelmsen just melted down against the Astros last night. The Mariners lost for the 38th time out of 67 games. They will play another 95 games before they stop playing, unless they have a game rained out and the commissioner’s office mercifully decides it doesn’t need to be made up. See, the Mariners, they won’t be involved in any playoff races. Not this year, again.
The 2013 fantasy isn’t coming true. Neither are entirely too many of the sub-fantasies, the little things that could realistically go right that need to add up to have a big impact. That’s the thing about the big fantasy. The components aren’t insane when you break it down. It’s the probability that can be bonkers. Some things have broken right for this year’s Mariners, but not enough of them have, and Raul Ibanez leads the team in home runs. Ibanez also leads the team in slugging percentage, given a decent playing-time minimum. Ibanez just turned 41 years old. He is older than Garret Anderson, Carlos Delgado, Tony Clark, and Mike Hampton.
This isn’t like a damning-with-faint-praise situation. Ibanez doesn’t lead by default. He’s clobbered 13 dingers, one more than Mike Trout. He’s slugging .506. There were concerns that Ibanez might leave his power in New York after signing with Seattle. Instead, all he does is hit for extra bases. If this is a death rattle, it’s prolonged and it’s loud. It’s probably waking the neighbors.
Raul Ibanez has never done a thing to me, personally. I’ve never met him, and those who have seem to love him, to an individual. He’s certainly beloved in Seattle, and nobody has a single bad thing to say about his personality or his drive or his leadership. A few years back he got all defensive about his fielding numbers, but who wouldn’t have reacted the same way? Ibanez wasn’t a prospect, and he’s still playing and succeeding at 41, and he’s a hell of a story and a hell of a guy. There probably aren’t many better people in the game.
And I just can’t stand Ibanez’s success. Increasingly, it’s more trying, and while I’m not getting angry or visibly frustrated, I don’t celebrate the Raul Ibanez home runs. I roll my eyes. It’s unhealthy and I can’t help it and I feel like I need to explain myself because I know I’m not the only person who feels how I feel.
We’re all baseball fans, and as fans of a team, what we want is for the team to have good things happen. Extra-base hits and home runs are good things, and Ibanez has provided those. But, first, I can’t help but feel that it’s empty. What are the Mariners going to do this season? Not contend, no, that’s not in the cards. What are they playing for? Why should I care if they win or they lose? I want to believe the Mariners can be good, soon, and Raul Ibanez won’t be a part of that team. God willing. I don’t even know anymore.
And when Raul goes deep, I don’t understand why he’s the one who’s actually coming through. Why he’s one of the ones who’s delivering. Raul has 13 home runs. Jesus Montero is in Tacoma and hurt. Dustin Ackley is in Tacoma. Franklin Gutierrez is in Tacoma. Justin Smoak is in Tacoma. Michael Saunders should be in Tacoma, and probably will be soon. Brandon Maurer is in Tacoma. I’m encouraged by Kyle Seager and Nick Franklin, in that they look like contributors for the long-term future, but then Mike Zunino has some holes, and James Paxton has an ERA near 6, and Danny Hultzen is rehabbing from a shoulder injury, and Erasmo Ramirez is rehabbing from an elbow injury. So many things could’ve gone well to help set the Mariners up for a while. So few of them have, to date, but Raul has 13 home runs. It’s some sort of monkey’s-paw trickery, where we asked for better offense and the paw was like “you got it. wink” and we were like “did you just say ‘wink’?” and the paw was like “whatever.” Every Ibanez home run is a reminder that other players, players more important to the franchise, aren’t working out. Ibanez is working out.
And he’s not even really working out. You know Raul Ibanez’s current WAR? -0.2. That’s on FanGraphs. On Baseball-Reference, it’s -0.3. He was brought in to play sparingly and to provide leadership skills, and instead he’s playing a lot and the team doesn’t look like it has effective, difference-making leaders. For all the talk of Ibanez’s leadership, there was the closed-door meeting. For all the talk of Ibanez helping the young players, look at the young players. Franklin looks good, but he hasn’t been exposed to Ibanez very long. The home runs are another reminder of empty offense.
Which is a reminder of the front office’s warped priorities. Ibanez is kind of the state of things in a nutshell — he hits the ball far and he isn’t good enough at defense and he doesn’t walk and the overall result is not particularly good. They wanted home runs. The Mariners are middle of the pack in home runs. The Mariners, also, are mediocre, and it’s not just because of injuries. Michael Morse has a negative WAR, too. He might well get re-signed. He was the big splash, after all.
It’s not that I don’t like Raul Ibanez home runs, in isolation. But I don’t and can’t see them out of context. There are so many associated thoughts, so many of them negative, and Matthew and I talked about this in the last podcast. He feels the same way. When Raul hits one out of the yard, I just sit and think, “why this?” It would almost be less cruel if Ibanez were terrible. Maybe it would be less cruel, I don’t know. I just don’t know how to make myself feel good about something so short-term and pointless, when so much else has spiraled…not completely out of control, but almost. Jack Zduriencik asked for an extended timeline for his organizational rebuild. He took over toward the end of 2008.
I’m writing about this not to say that I’m right, that I have the right perspective. I think this might be a shitty perspective, because it’s turning something decently good into something undeniably rotten. Raul Ibanez is a Seattle Mariner, and he’s one of the guys hitting home runs, and that production is surprising, and so at least the season’s not a complete waste. Enjoy the day to day, enjoy the old local hero going out not with a whimper, but with a whole bunch of bangs. There’s no one right way to be a baseball fan, and lots of Mariners fans have been delighted by Raul’s productivity, and that’s fantastic. In some sense I admire those people. But I’m not one of them, and that much has become abundantly clear. My perspective is that Raul’s home runs are irritating by association, and it doesn’t feel right but it is what it is.
This might be a sign of taking baseball too seriously, of worrying too much about the big picture instead of just finding pleasure in each of the dozens of games, produced as entertainment. But what I want is a baseball team that’s sustainably entertaining. Raul Ibanez could’ve been a part of such a team in 2013. He’s sure not, though.