If there was a Hall of Fame for teammates, Raul Ibanez would be a first-ballot inductee, a player whose clubhouse presence throughout his 19-year major league career may have been impossible to measure but was always felt.
“He's an all-around great guy,” Angels right fielder Kole Calhoun said, “one of the best people I've ever met in this game.”
Which only added to the pain the Angels felt when they released Ibanez before Saturday night's 3-2, 10-inning victory over the Texas Rangers, cutting ties with the popular but struggling 42-year-old and paving the way for promising rookie C.J. Cron to assume the bulk of the playing time at designated hitter.
“These things are never easy,” General Manager Jerry Dipoto said. “Raul, by his own admission, was disappointed with what was happening in the batter's box. But the support he gave his teammates, the way he carried himself, you'd never know if he was hitting .150 or .350. He's just a tremendous human being.”
The Angels signed Ibanez to a one-year, $2.75-million contract with incentives that pushed his total salary to $3.75 million believing he could replicate his 2013 season with Seattle, when he hit .242 with 29 homers and 65 runs batted in.
He didn't come close, batting .157 with a .258 on-base percentage, .265 slugging percentage, three homers and 21 RBIs in 57 games.
Ibanez had two big hits in April, a game-tying, three-run homer in the ninth inning against the New York Mets and a go-ahead, three-run triple in the eighth against the Washington Nationals.
But he was unable to raise his average above .158 in May or June despite getting numerous starts, often at the expense of Cron, who homered in the eighth inning Saturday and entered the day with a .283 average.
“It's been a slow, steady struggle for Raul,” Dipoto said. “We gave him a lot of room to run because of what he brought to the team. And you have to go back 14 years to find a season in which he had an OPS [on-base-plus-slugging] of less than .700 It's tough to get to this point, but we're halfway through the season, and we had to make a move for the good of the club.”
Manager Mike Scioscia said Cron will “get an opportunity” for more at-bats and that he will rotate Albert Pujols, who did not start Saturday because of lower-back spasms, and Josh Hamilton through the DH spot more.
Ibanez's departure should also mean more at-bats for utility player Grant Green, who was recalled from triple A on Friday, and first baseman/corner outfielder Efren Navarro, who was called up Saturday.
“Raul is tough to replace in that clubhouse — he brings so many intangibles,” Scioscia said. “Unfortunately, on the field, he wasn't moving forward. We have some young kids who are swinging well, and at-bats were going to slide their way.”
Dipoto said he will not seek outside help to replace Ibanez.
“This is an area of strength,” Dipoto said. “I don't think you'll see the standard six-day-a-week DH. You'll see guys rotate through, and whoever is swinging the bat will get a lion's share of the playing time.”
Cron, 24, a first-round pick from the University of Utah in 2011, had mixed emotions about the opportunity created by Ibanez's release.
“I just feel bad for Raul,” Cron said. “It's tough to see one of your guys go, especially one you bonded with. Raul was nothing but positive for me. He helped me with everything from how to prepare to be a DH to the adjustment to the big leagues. He made my transition easy. I can't thank him enough.”
Calhoun said Ibanez was “a little torn up” when he ran into him in the parking lot Saturday.
“But he still had encouraging words for me,” Calhoun said. “It's sad to see him go. This clubhouse is going to be missing something. But it's the business of the game.”Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times