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Wednesday, November 19, 2003 - Page updated at 11:10 A.M.
By Bob Finnigan
The contract could be announced as early as today. While financial terms are uncertain, one source said it brings Ibanez back for $13 million over three years.
If the deal is completed as anticipated, it would correct one of the Mariners' most glaring mistakes of recent years, dropping the left-handed hitter from the roster after the 2000 season.
Signed by Kansas City in January 2001, Ibanez got playing time and at-bats that he could not get with manager Lou Piniella's contending Mariners, and developed into a solid hitter and run-producer.
While splitting time at the corner outfield positions and first base for the Royals, he hit .280 with 13 home runs and drove in 54 runs in 2001 in only 104 games. Becoming a regular the past two seasons, he hit .294 both years with a combined 42 homers and 193 RBI.
Watching him in 2002, Piniella said of Ibanez, "His swing is different, shorter and quicker. He used to be long, and we couldn't change him. If he had a swing like that with us, he'd never have gone anywhere else."
Ibanez said he really had not changed his swing.
"It really only was a matter of getting a chance to play," he said.
While the Mariners were thought to have made bringing back Ibanez a priority for some time, the possibility seemingly gained impetus 10 days ago when he joined a handful of his former Mariners teammates in Puerto Rico for a celebration for Edgar Martinez, who signed a one-year deal with the Mariners on Nov. 4.
Each one apparently told him how welcome he would be on the club and Ibanez, reportedly courted by Kansas City and Atlanta, said he would be very interested in coming back.
"He was fired up," said Jay Buhner, who attended Edgar's fete. "Raul's always been a great kid and now he's a good hitter, too. Having him back would be great for the Mariners."
If nothing else, it would be a good idea just to keep Ibanez out of an opposing lineup. The past two years, he has pounded his old club for a .397 average (27 of 68) with five homers and 18 RBI in 14 games.
Offensively, Seattle will look for Ibanez to power the ball to right at Safeco Field, where the ball tends to carry.
Defensively, it is uncertain if he will play left field or right field in 2004, since it is uncertain if the Mariners will make more moves in the outfield.
Seattle's preference appears to be to signing Ibanez for offense and re-signing Mike Cameron, primarily for defense.
"If we lock up Raul, that's a nice move for us as a team," one Seattle player said. "If we can get Cammy back, too, that's a huge move for our pitchers."
Right now, the Mariners could play Ibanez in left with Randy Winn moving to center, where he played in Tampa Bay. If they chose to play Ichiro in center, where he is regarded a better defender than Winn, Ibanez could play right.
If Cameron also returned to the Mariners, it would seem to leave Winn the odd man out, either as a trade possibility or more likely a non-tender, not offered a 2004 contract by the Dec. 20 deadline. Winn, who is arbitration-eligible, would be expected to make $4.5 million to $5 million next season.
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