One of the major questions facing the Angels next year is what Raul Ibanez can provide as their primary designated hitter. The recently-signed veteran struggled in the second half of last season, and he'll turn 42 in June.
But to Ibanez, it's not even a question.
"If I didn't know that I could perform at a high level, then I wouldn't even play the game," Ibanez said on a conference call Monday morning. "I definitely expect to contribute to this team and to be a part of continuing the winning tradition here."
The Angels officially signed the 41-year-old outfielder/DH to a one-year contract on Friday. The two sides agreed to terms on Dec. 18 on a deal that will pay Ibanez a base salary of $2.75 million, with another $2.25 million in incentives.
The 18-year veteran hit 29 homers with a .793 OPS last year for the Mariners, though his numbers took a sharp downturn in the second half. After hitting .267/.314/.578 with 24 home runs in the first half, Ibanez hit just .203/.295/.345 with five homers the rest of the way.
Some of that could be attributed to the 832 1/3 innings Ibanez played in the outfield, and he admitted that spending more time at designated hitter should keep him fresh. But he summed up his struggles by saying he "basically stunk" in the second half.
"You'll never hear me say that anything ever impacted me, because I played on the field. If they need me to play the field next year for whatever reason, then I fully expect to be able to do that and contribute," Ibanez said. "I'm preparing this offseason, obviously, like I do every offseason. There's no such thing, in my opinion, as preparing in the offseason to DH. You prepare to be a baseball player. You prepare to be an athlete. You prepare to be athletic. ... That's what I'm doing now."
Ibanez said several times Monday how excited he is to play in Anaheim, which has long been his favorite road city and ballpark. He's shown an affinity for the park on the field as well, posting a career .349/.407/.522 batting line with 10 homers in 70 games at Angel Stadium.
So, what's made him so successful in his new home ballpark?
"To be honest with you, I've thought about that a lot. I don't know," Ibanez said. "I've always felt very comfortable there. ... I love the background. I see the ball really well there. I like the fact that it's got nice wide-open gaps. I think the grass moves well, so the ball moves through the infield well. I really enjoy hitting there. I always have. I enjoy playing there."
General manager Jerry Dipoto was equally excited to add Ibanez, praising his career numbers as well as his veteran presence and his reputation as a good clubhouse guy. Dipoto said the Angels have focused this offseason on "trying to bring in winning personalities" to the front office, coaching staff and roster, including Ibanez.
"We're thrilled to welcome Raul Ibanez to the Angels," Dipoto said. "Not simply because of what Raul brings to us on the field or to our lineup, but what he brings to our organization -- the human factor, the quality, the integrity of the person, the character of the guy we're getting -- along with 300 homers and a lot of veteran know-how on the field. We're excited to bring Raul in."
Ibanez might not be Dipoto's last addition, however. The Angels could use another starting pitcher, and right-hander Matt Garza and the recently posted Masahiro Tanaka are at the top of their wish list. Dipoto declined to comment Monday on the Angels' pursuit of Tanaka, saying it wouldn't be fair to "openly discuss free agents."
But that's where the Angels' focus will turn after officially locking up Ibanez. Meanwhile, Ibanez is focused only on this coming year, not how many more he has left in the Majors, saying he hasn't given any thought to how much longer he wants to play.
"I literally go year by year and day by day," he said. "I'll tell you what, if we win the World Series this year, then we'll talk about it again at the end of the year. But for right now, I'm just focusing on this year, this moment. ... My goal this year is to help this team win, and that's all I'm really focused on."
And there's little doubt on the Angels' end that Ibanez can do that, no matter his age.
"Because he has, and he is," Dipoto said. "I have no expectation that the Angels will get anything but the best he has to offer, because that's what he's about."