Ibanez excited to be with Phillies

February 17, 2009 8:19:30 AM PST
Raul Ibanez put on his new Phillies uniform for the first time and thought about some of the star players who wore the red pinstripes in the past. "Growing up as a kid, I watched this team with Mike Schmidt, Larry Bowa, (Garry) Maddox, Pete Rose," Ibanez said Monday. "It's kind of neat for me to put on the red shoes and the pants and think I'm a part of something, a tradition that's been there for a long time and goes beyond any of us in the clubhouse."

Ibanez was Philadelphia's only major offseason acquisition after winning the World Series. He signed a $31.5 million, three-year contract to replace left fielder Pat Burrell.

When he came to Philadelphia in December, Ibanez ate three cheesesteaks in one day. He'll fit right in with this team if he feasts on opposing pitchers the same way.

The 36-year-old Ibanez hit .293 last season with 43 doubles, 23 home runs and 110 RBIs for the Seattle Mariners. He's one of five major league outfielders to drive in at least 100 runs in each of the past three seasons, joining Bobby Abreu, Carlos Beltran, Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Lee.

"He's a good hitter, a good contact hitter," manager Charlie Manuel said. "He's going to put the ball in play hard. He makes good contact. I look at Seattle, one of the bigger parks in baseball. He has a chance to show more power numbers this year if he doesn't get caught up in trying to hit them, as long as he stays within himself. He knows that, he knows what kind of hitter he is. I think he's going to be good for our team."

Ibanez has no plans to alter his left-handed stroke in hitter-friendly Citizens Bank Park.

"That's another uncontrollable," he said. "Whether I'm playing in this park or Yosemite, I kind of have the same approach. The one thing I know is the guy pitching. I need to know what he's trying to do to me, and more importantly, what I'm trying to do to him."

The Phillies chose to add Ibanez instead of bringing back the younger Burrell because they wanted a player who didn't have to be replaced for defense late in close games. Burrell had more power, averaging 31 homers and 99 RBIs over the last four seasons. But he was a streaky hitter prone to prolonged slumps while Ibanez is more consistent.

Burrell had an up-and-down relationship with fans, who once booed him on opening day. He won them back last year and led the Phillies' championship parade procession, riding on a horse-drawn beer wagon. Sitting with his wife and dog, Burrell pumped his fists, clapped his hands, and stood up and pointed to fans lined up along Broad Street.

Turned out to be his goodbye to Philly. Burrell ended up signing with Tampa Bay for $18 million over two years, far less than his original asking price.

"I'm not focusing on replacing anybody," Ibanez said. "You're talking about a great player. All the things he did in Philadelphia speak for themselves."

Ibanez spent parts of his first five seasons with Seattle from 1996-2000. He went to Kansas City and didn't become a full-time player until 2002 at age 30. After three years with the Royals, Ibanez rejoined the Mariners in 2004.

The Phillies weren't concerned about giving a lot of money to a player in his mid-30s because Ibanez is a workout freak and stays in excellent shape. Don't let those three cheesesteaks fool you. He usually watches his diet, too.

"The three years I didn't play, all I did was take care of my body and try to improve it," Ibanez said. "I think they've paid dividends for me because I feel like I'm three years younger than what I am because I didn't put all those miles on my body."

Ibanez makes the middle of Philadelphia's lineup heavy with left-handed hitters. If he bats fifth behind Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, the Phillies could be vulnerable against tough lefties. Manuel might drop Ibanez to sixth and bat Jayson Werth fifth. Ibanez, though, hit .305 against lefties last year and he's a .268 hitter lifetime against them.

"The last couple years I looked at his stats and he hit lefties real good," Manuel said. "He stays in on them good. It's a good sign."

Ibanez was pursued by several teams in the offseason, including the Chicago Cubs. He watched the Phillies' postseason run last year and relished an opportunity to play with the world champions. He also reunites with former Mariners teammates Jamie Moyer and Greg Dobbs.

"Being a part of something like that with a club that has a great opportunity to go a long way again, it's really exciting," Ibanez said. "Once I found out I was coming here and as time has gotten closer, I got really excited. Coming into camp is a great thing. I feel like this is one of my first spring trainings. It's a lot of fun."

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