The other day, the Seattle Mariners traded Jason Vargas for Kendrys Morales, and based on third-year arbitration projections, the trade should end up saving the Mariners about $2.6 million. On Saturday, the Mariners guaranteed a little more than that to Raul Ibanez, on a one-year contract. Does this mean the Mariners traded Jason Vargas for Kendrys Morales and Raul Ibanez? No, of course not, that doesn't make any sense, Ibanez didn't play for the Angels. These are separate transactions. What kind of question is that? You don't know anything!
This is a move that's been rumored for quite some time, and initially, it didn't look like the Mariners were a good fit for Ibanez, given their roster. Then they added Morales, making Ibanez look like even less of a fit than before. But here we are anyway, and Ibanez's is a guaranteed, major-league contract. The Mariners' roster right now is something of a puzzle, but I suppose these moves shouldn't be evaluated in isolation. The Mariners must have some kind of plan for Ibanez and their roster will presumably look different in a few months from the way it looks now.
In fact, we know the roster will look different, because at present the roster doesn't include Ibanez and does include the player who will have to be dropped to make room for Ibanez. There's a corresponding 40-man roster move a'coming, as a player could find himself designated for assignment right before Christmas.
From one perspective, this is a tricky move to understand. Ibanez is 40 years old, and he can't play the field, and he's spent the last few years in home ballparks that are generous to left-handed hitters. Here are Ibanez's home and road splits from 2009-2012, during which time he played for the Phillies and the Yankees:
Home: .280/.349/.517, 1,086 plate appearances
Road: .239/.301/.417, 1,115 plate appearances
Ibanez is a limited lefty bat who doesn't help the team in the field. The Mariners already had Mike Carp and Eric Thames as limited lefty bats who don't help the team in the field. Carp and Thames are younger, and Carp and Thames have the ability to hit the occasional dinger. On a performance or talent basis, Ibanez is an odd match.
But this isn't about performance or talent, at least not first and foremost. The Mariners have said all offseason they're looking to bring in some veteran experience, and in that regard Ibanez is exactly what they've been searching for. What he has that Carp and Thames don't are almost 2,000 games played. He's been to the World Series, once, and he's been to the league championship series four times. People love Raul Ibanez for his professionalism and his intensity, and the idea is that Ibanez will be a team leader, that he'll be some sort of positive role model.
Talk to people around the Mariners and they'll tell you the team's been missing a leader like Ibanez. The people in charge of the Mariners obviously agree, and while in theory Eric Wedge and the coaching staff should be enough, those guys aren't players, and players respond better to players, even if they're old ones. If you believed the Mariners needed a proven veteran, Ibanez makes all the sense in the world. He is exactly what the Mariners wanted.
We just end up in that place where we can't measure things. Where we have to take the team's word for it. The Mariners want for Ibanez to be a positive influence on the younger players. Maybe he'll be that and maybe he won't, maybe he'll make a meaningful difference and maybe he won't, and we won't be sure. We won't be able to compare the team to the same team under the same conditions, only Ibanez-less. Just because we can't measure something doesn't mean it doesn't exist, but this is a question of faith.
The Mariners value Ibanez at a few million dollars, meaning they value Ibanez's experience at a few million dollars over Carp and Thames' raw skillsets. That tells you right there that they're pretty convinced, and maybe that's enough. Baseball people have always believed strongly in the importance of catcher defense, and lately we're getting a better statistical understanding that, yeah, catcher defense is important. Baseball people aren't always full of shit. But baseball people have also believed strongly in clutch hitting, and batter vs. pitcher matchups, and hot/cold streaks. Those ideas have been more or less disproved, and maybe Ibanez won't be of any real use. Maybe he will have an insignificant effect on Dustin Ackley's career path.
The Mariners signed a familiar player because of something we can't measure. It's hard to tell exactly how he fits, and this is a non-impact move by a team still looking to make impact moves. It's weird that the Seattle Mariners just signed Raul Ibanez. But it's also kind of the least weird thing.