As Josh Hamilton takes his first swings with Triple-A Salt Lake, a role player on the Angels’ 25-man roster takes his last. The All-Star outfielder expects to return for next week’s series in Seattle, likely replacing either Collin Cowgill, C.J. Cron, or Grant Green.
Yet, there is a veteran on the team whose been outperformed by these long-time minor leaguers. A role player that hasn’t pulled his weight through 47 games. Most importantly, a 41-year-old designated hitter whose career has reached the end of the line.
The Angels signed Raul Ibanez to replace Mark Trumbo -who they traded for two pitchers during the offseason- hoping he would replicate Trumbo’s power as a designated hitter. Of Ibanez’s 29 home runs last year, five came after the All-Star break, and his .242/.306/.487 slash line was near career-lows.
It was a downward trend the Angels elected to ignore.
A lack of nuance this season has Ibanez struggling just to make contact. His 55 percent groundball rate is well above his 42.5 career mark. The oldest active player in the majors, Ibanez also maintains the lowest batting average (.149) among players with at least 100 at-bats and holds his lowest OPS plus (56) since being called-up by the Mariners in 1997. He is 4-for-24 over his last ten games with one extra-base hit, 10 walks, and six strikeouts.
Whether it be because of a slow start or just plain bad luck, Ibanez’s job hangs by a thread.
Cron is the Angels’ future at the first base/DH position, and he’s playing like it. The 24-year-old rookie is 15-for-50 with two home runs, seven RBIs, and four doubles in just 16 games. While Cron has struggled over the last two weeks, he broke out of a 0-for-8 slump with a two-hit performance against Kansas City May 23.
The limiting factor for Cron is in Albert Pujols’s stronghold at first; Ibanez can at least play in the outfield. It wouldn’t benefit Cron or the Angels to inhibit his progress by sitting on the bench.
If Mike Scioscia elects to keep Cron, either Cowgill or Green heads to Salt Lake. There simply isn’t room for five outfielders. Cowgill has a 0.9 OWAR-sixth highest on the team- and Green is batting .378 with 17 hits in 48 plate appearances. Green has experience at second and third base, and Cowgill is among the team’s leaders in walks (14). Both make stronger cases than Ibanez.
On May 9, Ibanez went 0-for-3 with three walks and a ninth-inning sac fly RBI. That RBI lifted the Angels over Toronto and jumpstarted the team’s current 11-3 run. In 39 games, this is the highlight of Ibanez time in Anaheim. For a player whose prerogative it is to drive in runs, sac fly’s won’t be enough.