Raul Ibanez is in the second season of a three-year, $31.5MM deal with the Phillies, and so far 2010 isn't treating him as well as the first half of 2009 did. Last season, Ibanez got off to a torrid start, hitting 340/.399/.716 with 19 homers in his first 50 games. This year, the 37-year-old has yet to find his stroke, posting a slash line of just .221/.341/.338.
Ibanez is a notoriously streaky hitter, and it's possible another hot stretch like last year's is right around the corner. It's only May 1st and there are plenty of reasons to believe he'll right the ship, such as his .341 OBP, which is right in line with his career rate (.346) and his 2009 rate (.347). If Ibanez's struggles continue, however, it's a cause of concern for the two-time defending National League champs. In addition to this year's slow start, the outfielder finished 2009 by hitting 228/.313/.446 after those aforementioned first 50 games. Ibanez will turn 38 this month, and one has to wonder if his age is starting to catch up to him.
As a piece on ESPN.com's MLB Rumors page notes, Ibanez's leash will be long. The Phillies owe him $11.5MM in each of the next two seasons, and won't want to pay him that money to sit on the bench. Plus, their alternatives aren't overly appealing -- in limited playing time, Ben Francisco has also struggled this year, and prospect Domonic Brown is probably not quite major league ready.
So what are the Phillies' options if Ibanez's numbers don't improve? Bob Brookover of the Philadelphia Inquirer suggested that the club's best bet of retaining Jayson Werth beyond this year involved moving Ibanez to help clear salary space, but in addition to the $23MM he's owed, Ibanez's no-trade protection is problematic. Can you see the Phillies attempting to make any roster moves, or will this end up being a non-issue for the team?