|Traffic | Weather | Your account||Movies | Restaurants | Today's events|
Ibanez signs $11M, two-year extension with M's
Seattle Times staff reporter
PEORIA, Ariz. — Befitting his status as successor to Alvin Davis and Edgar Martinez as the soul of the Seattle team, the Mariners have given Raul Ibanez a contract extension.
A source said Thursday the club has signed the outfielder, who is in the final season of a three-year deal, for another two years at $11 million.
Rather than elaborate on his contract situation, the affable team leader discussed his career as a Mariner. It began 14 years ago when Seattle signed him as a 36th-round pick — thought to be the lowest ever to make the Seattle club — as a Miami prep standout.
Ibanez's tenure was interrupted by three years with Kansas City, where he went as a free agent in 2001. He returned to the organization in 2004, having developed into a solid hitter.
"You know, I feel like I never left," Ibanez said. "I will always appreciate the opportunity the Royals gave me, but I feel like I've always been a Mariner."
While Mariners officials have much the same feeling now, valuing him so much they paid for less-experienced players Mike Morse and Yuniesky Betancourt to work out with him in Florida this past offseason, it was not always thus.
Ibanez always hit as he climbed the farm system: .308 at Tempe in 1992, .284 at Bellingham in 1993, .312 at Appleton, .332 at Riverside, .284 at Tacoma. He got stronger with a better power stroke.
But finding a position for him was another matter. He was a catcher originally, but that wasn't working well enough. Because he could run — at age 34 he still can — he was converted to an outfielder in 1996.
After the 1997 season, it appeared in winter ball in his family's native Puerto Rico that Ibanez had gotten it all together. He hit close to .400 and was ready to blossom, but had been playing with a sore shoulder that needed surgery for a frayed labrum.
"I had it, I had found it, I was unconscious that winter, I hit everything," he recalled, a little wistful. "But I never should have played there. My shoulder was hurting when I went down, but I could throw with it and we played on a turf field so I could use a long bounce to throw out runners."
Seattle was so close to selling Ibanez to Orix, that Blue Wave manager Akira Ogi came to Puerto Rico to visit him.
"It would have been something, I didn't really know what to think then," Ibanez said. "All in all, I'm glad it didn't happen."
Orix backed off when it was apparent Ibanez was hurting and he wound up on the 60-day disabled list, his progress derailed and manager Lou Piniella's patience along with it. Although Ibanez tripled in the winning run in the Mariners' playoff-clinching win in Anaheim at the end of the 2000 season, he was let go to free agency after that season.
In Kansas City, he got a chance to play for three seasons. He tightened up his swing, hit .280 and .294 twice while averaging 18 homers in a big park, and said he hadn't changed anything, just gotten a chance to swing against big-league pitching at last.
He also had harkened back to watching Martinez.
"Edgar was so patient with young players, he'd talk to you forever," Ibanez recalled, looking to where Adrian Beltre's locker here is now, where Edgar's was before. "I remember him telling us, 'When you hit the opposite way, try to hit the ball on the ground or on a line. Don't lift the ball, you don't usually hit the ball out to the opposite field.' "
Just watching Martinez taught Ibanez more than anything, not his technique as much as his pace, not his swing as much as his timing to prepare for a pitch.
"I remembered when I was with the Royals," Ibanez said. "Sometimes, I used to pretend I was Edgar, the smoothness, the flow ... "
He mimed Martinez's mechanics perfectly as if he envisioned the old master across the clubhouse taking a few practice swings.
"Even now, when I'm out of sync I try to go back to his rhythm. It was beautiful to watch, it was like a dance," Ibanez said. "So perfect. Then ... pow."
Bob Finnigan: 206-464-8276 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company