Decisions loom, but Ibanez probably safe …
Jerry Dipoto wouldn’t flat out say that the veteran designated hitter will not be released, but the Angels’ general manager did indicate that the club would continue to be patient with Ibanez – because he turned things around after a slow start last year, because they like his veteran presence, because he’s come through in late-game situations and because keeping him on the roster allows the organization to preserve depth.
“One of the real benefits about where we’re at right now is just the fact that we have unmasked some depth, and once you start peeling depth away, it’s not there anymore,” Dipoto said. “Raul has a track record. He has done this before. He has gone through cold spells, and he has gotten hot. There’s nobody here who believes Raul has had his last good days in the big leagues.”
The Angels’ current dilemma, no doubt, is a good one.
Efren Navarro, Grant Green, C.J. Cron and Luis Jimenez have come up from Triple-A and contributed in the last few weeks, and now several key position players are on the verge of being activated off the disabled list.
Third baseman David Freese (non-displaced fracture in right middle finger) and right fielder Kole Calhoun (sprained right ankle) are deep into a rehab assignment with Triple-A Salt Lake and could be back within the next couple days.
That would presumably lead to Jimenez (a right-handed-hitting third baseman) and Navarro (a left-handed hitter currently playing corner outfield) getting optioned.
But next week, when left fielder Josh Hamilton (sprained left thumb) and third baseman Ian Stewart (left hand contusion) are projected to return, is when things could get interesting.
The Angels would then perceivably have to make a decision between Green, a right-handed hitter who can play up to four different positions, and Cron, the slugging prospect who can spell Albert Pujols by playing first base and can be a right-handed-hitting complement to Ibanez at DH.
Stewart, who has batted .176 and struck out 31 times in 24 games, can be optioned to Triple-A.
“We’re finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel in getting guys back,” Dipoto said. “And the guys who have come up and chipped in have done such a great job that it makes it tough to have conversations. But my goodness, when you look at the way the roster has been stacked, it’s been fun.”
Ibanez, 41, has a .148/.268/.269 slash line in his first 36 games, but he posted only a .511 OPS in April last year and then turned it around shortly thereafter, with a 1.031 OPS in May. The Angels believe he can do the same now.
“To be fair, you bring a guy in, you remain patient with him, you give him his opportunity,” Dipoto said. “Raul wasn’t brought in to jam into the 4-hole and hit cleanup for a month. It hadn’t been a great six weeks for him. We’ll get him where he needs to be.”