No sooner had A.J. Burnett been fitted for his Pirates uniform than the Yankees used the extra money they freed up with the pitcher’s trade to sign Raul Ibanez as their left-handed DH. The one-year deal is for $1.1 million and is sprinkled with incentives. The Bombers had a number of options available to fill the role, including two guys who not only wore the pinstripes, but were key pieces in their 2009 World Series championship: Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui.
Ibanez was the better option. Yes, the former Phillie turns 40 years old in June, but he can still play the outfield, something Damon and, especially, Matsui can’t do any more. Ibanez also has a better on-base percentage (.747) than both Damon (.715) and Matsui (.654) against righties. Ibanez had 20 dingers last year (16 of those were against right-handed pitchers) and his power should benefit from the short porch in right field.
Damon, who is a big fan favorite, actually called Yankees GM Brian Cashman to see if he had a shot to return to his former team. Cashman told him they were going in another direction. The concern is that Damon is too focused on his quest to get to 3,000 hits. He’s 277 shy and has let it be known that he wants to reach that milestone. That’s all well and good, but Damon seems to be affected by the pursuit and has abandoned his patient approach at the plate, and the numbers confirm it.
During his four years in New York, Damon batted .285 with 77 home runs and 296 RBIs; however, his batting average dropped 10 points from 2010 to 2011 and his on-base average fell an even more dramatic 29 points to .326 from .355. His walk percentage fell to 7.9 per 100 plate appearances after he had averaged 10.7 over the previous five years, never falling below 10.0. The last thing the Yankees need is another player distracted by a milestone every time he gets up to bat.
Matsui’s bad knees and inability to play the field were ultimately what made him an unattractive option for the Yankees. Additionally, the left-handed hitter actually hits better against lefty pitchers. He has a .273 average and .795 OPS against southpaws, as well as eight of his 12 home runs.
As much as I’d love to see Damon or Matsui back in pinstripes if only for nostalgia’s sake, Ibanez should slot in nicely as a lefty DH and occasional outfielder. It’s just a one-year deal so if he doesn’t work out, it’s not like the Yankees will have to pawn him off on Pittsburgh.