During Thursday’s game in Detroit, shortly after Raul Ibanez’ RBI triple gave the Yankees a 1-0 lead, Daily News beat writer Mark Feinsand Tweeted the following:
“Remember when Yankees fans wanted Brian Cashman to sign Johnny Damon or Hideki Matsui over Raul Ibanez?”
A salient question at the time of its asking, of course, but one made even more prophetic given the fact that Damon was officially released by the Indians roughly an hour later.
Yes, later in that game Ibanez “misplayed” Andy Dirks’ disputed double that gave the Tigers the lead and led to Joe Griardi’s tirade and subsequent ejection…and yes, he’s had a few miscues in the outfield this year that have led to many bemoaning the 40-year-old’s presence out there.
But look back at Mr. Feinsand’s Tweet and ask yourself this – where might the Yankees be if they had signed one of the two former Yankees mentioned instead of Ibanez?
Through Thursday’s game – the Yankees’ 111th of the year – Ibanez had played 92 games, and with most of his 287 at-bats coming out of the sixth or seventh spot in the lineup, he was hitting .244/.307/.467 with 15 homers and 50 RBI.
For a guy who was signed late in the off-season to a “bargain” contract and meant to be the lefty half of a DH platoon/part-time outfielder, that’s a heck of a line, no?
Sure, the season-ending injury to Brett Gardner has pressed Ibanez (and Andruw Jones) into more outfield duty than seemingly anyone wanted, but his hot hitting helped carry the team early and he had more than held his own in the outfield most of the time.
Unfortunately, you can’t say the same about Matsui or Damon, both of whom are younger than Ibanez, by the way.
Both were signed after the season began in April – Matsui by the Rays, Damon by Cleveland – but as of Damon’s release on Thursday, neither is still with those teams.
Godzilla hit just .147-2-7 in 95 AB (and multiple rough nights in the outfield) with Tampa before being let go in late July, while Johnny put up a decidedly un-Damonic .222-4-19 line in 207 AB with Cleveland before he was designated for assignment last week. Damon was at least better defensively, sure, but his “speed advantage” manifested itself in just four steals – one more than Ibanez has.
And, for the record, that’s a .199 total average (60-for-302) with six homers and 26 RBI combined for Damon and Matsui, who totaled 11 more plate appearances than Ibanez currently has.
Bottom line? Sure, he may have his faults, but based on pretty much any current performance indicators you can base the decision on, Cashman made the right choice in picking Ibanez over the two revered ex-World Champions.
Was it sexy? No, maybe not…but for the Yankees, it’s been the healthiest relationship it possibly could be.