Now matter how Brian Cashman tries to sugar coat the acquisition, the selection of Ibanez as the Yankees’ left handed DH was a fallback position. Among free agents, Johnny Damon would have been the superior choice, but the veteran’s salary demands were too rich for the Yankees’ new budget conscious approach. In addition, the Yankees also pursued left handed bats like Garrett Jones and Bobby Abreu while shopping around Burnett, so Ibanez wasn’t even a plan B. What made the former Phillies’ left fielder attractive, however, was his price tag, so now he will be wearing pinstripes in 2012.
Just because Ibanez wasn’t the Yankees first choice doesn’t mean he is a bad signing. On the contrary, the deal would quickly become a bargain if Ibanez starts to earn the incentives that could increase the contract value to $4 million. And, because of the low base salary, if Ibanez struggles in the Bronx, the Yankees can quickly cut the cord. However, that doesn’t make the signing a no risk proposition because someone would still need to take his at bats.
Source: baseball-reference.com (sOPS+) and fangraphs.com (wRC+)
If the Yankees almost exclusively use Ibanez to hit against right handers (and keep him away from the outfield), his value is comparable to most of the other options being considered. But, what happens if he is thrust into a more full-time position, or, fails in the limited role he was signed to fill? By forgoing a better all-around player like Damon, who is not only younger, but comes without the red flags of a rapid decline phase, Brian Cashman will be forced to scramble midseason if either of these circumstances come to fruition. Is that safety net worth the reported $4 million difference (or less, depending on incentives) between Ibanez and Damon? At the moment, it doesn’t seem so, but if the Yankees find themselves desperately looking for an upgrade at DH in July, their decision making in February could wind up being penny wise.
Putting aside the potential replacement risk, Ibanez does have some upside. His 2011 season represented a significant decline, but he was still a league average hitter against right handed pitching. In previous seasons, the lefty had much more success against righties, so if he regains some of that form, the Yankees will have a potent DH-platoon. Also, Ibanez has had success pulling the ball, which could become an accentuated positive at Yankee Stadium. So, although he won’t please those who crave small ball and marvel at the sweet science of hitting, if he deposits his fair share of fly balls into the short porch, the Yankees will wind up getting their money’s worth. Of course, that assumes he doesn’t also get more than his fair share of playing time.