ANAHEIM (AP) — Although most visiting hitters have little love for Angel Stadium, Raul Ibanez can’t wait to suit up for the home team.
Ibanez agreed to a one-year, $2.75 million deal with the Los Angeles Angels earlier this month. The 41-year-old veteran proclaimed his excitement Monday to play in the Angels’ pitcher-friendly ballpark with its big outfield, high right-field wall and ever-present marine layer.
“I just feel very comfortable there,” said Ibanez, a career .349 hitter at the Big A. “It goes back to ’97, ’98 … and I just loved the background. I see the ball really well there. I like the fact it’s got nice wide-open gaps. The ball moves well on the grass. I really enjoy hitting there, and I always have. I’ve always said it’s my favorite city to spend time (in) on the road.”
The Angels intend to get more than civic cheerleading from the personable Ibanez, whose steady power stroke hasn’t vanished in his 40s. Even with a second-half swoon, Ibanez hit 29 homers last season for the Seattle Mariners — including the 300th of his career at the Big A in September.
Ibanez, who could make another $2.25 million in incentives, is likely to be a regular designated hitter for the Angels, who traded slugger Mark Trumbo to Arizona to fill the holes in their starting rotation with young left-handers Tyler Skaggs and Hector Santiago.
After playing extensively in the outfield last season for Seattle, Ibanez also believes he can still help out in the field for the Angels, who traded Peter Bourjos to St. Louis for third baseman David Freese. Josh Hamilton, Mike Trout and Kole Calhoun are slated to be the everyday outfield for the Angels in 2014 when they return from their worst season in a decade.
“If I didn’t know I could perform at a high level, then I wouldn’t even play the game,” said Ibanez, who will turn 42 on June 2. “I fully expect to contribute to this team and contribute to the winning tradition here.”
Ibanez and his wife are so eager to get started in Orange County that they’re planning to pull their kids out of school in Seattle, home-schooling them while they get situated down south.
Ibanez batted .242 — albeit just .203 in the second half — with 65 RBIs last season for the Mariners. His 29 homers tied Ted Williams for the most in baseball history by a player in his 40s, and he is seven shy of his 2,000th hit.
Los Angeles general manager Jerry Dipoto fleshed out his starting rotation and filled a long-standing hole at third base in the offseason, but sacrificed two young offensive talents in the process. He’s hopeful the new additions will combine with bounce-back seasons from Hamilton and Albert Pujols to push another postseason run by the Angels, who have missed the playoffs for four straight years.
“We had a pretty clear idea of what we wanted to accomplish coming into this offseason, and obviously adding Raul helps out our offense,” Dipoto said. “We’re as talented as anybody out there. Obviously, as Raul said, in any baseball season you’ve got to go out and put your cards on the table … but we’re very confident in the quality of the player and the people we’re going to send out there, and we’ll see how it goes.”
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