SEATTLE -- The Mariners offered free-agent left fielder Raul Ibanez salary arbitration on Monday, well before the 9 p.m. PT deadline, but similar offers were not made to utility players Willie Bloomquist and Miguel Cairo. "With the deadline tonight, offering Raul arbitration keeps all of our options open," general manager Jack Zduriencik said. "We can continue our conversations with any, or all, of our free agents, but, by rule, we had to offer Raul arbitration by today to guarantee we could receive Draft-pick compensation if he ends up signing elsewhere." Ibanez, who lives in the Miami area during the offseason, could not be reached for comment and a phone message left at his home was not returned.
Of the three veteran Mariners eligible for salary arbitration, Ibanez is the only one ranked by the Elias Sports Bureau and therefore subject to the free-agent compensation rules. The rankings, which are based on player performance over the past two seasons, are used to determine whether players are Type A or Type B free agents. Since Ibanez is a Type A, any organization that signs him surrenders either its first- or second-round pick in June's First-Year Player Draft (depending on 2008 finish) to the Mariners. In addition, the Mariners would receive a "sandwich pick" between the first and second rounds. Ibanez has until Dec. 7 to accept or reject the arbitration offer. If he accepts, he would return to his club's 40-man roster. The player and club may continue to negotiate before the February arbitration hearing. Even if Ibanez rejects a salary arbitration offer, he still can negotiate with any of the 30 clubs -- including the Mariners. During a conference call on Monday afternoon, Zduriencik said he talked to Ibanez's agent as recently as last week, but the GM wouldn't go into details. "[Offering salary arbitration] is a one-step process from our end," Zduriencik said. "That's what we did today, and we'll see where it takes us." He said Ibanez is "a tremendous person, and we'd love to have him back. If he says he wants to come back, we would welcome him back with open arms. At this moment in time, we would love to have him back [next] year.
"But to get into discussions [regarding] a long-term deal, that is something that would have to be discussed further."Ibanez led the Mariners in RBIs last season with 110 and ranked second with 23 home runs, hiking his five-year totals to 113 home runs and 489 RBIs during his second tour of duty with Seattle. Ibanez, 36, said on the final day of the regular season that he would give the Mariners "final right of refusal" before signing with another organization. The Cubs are among the teams that have shown interest in signing Ibanez. The Cubs are looking for a left-handed bat to hit in the middle of the order, and Ibanez has been mentioned as one possibility. "Raul can hit, there's no question," Cubs manager Lou Piniella recently told the Chicago Sun-Times. "He's a professional bat, and he's that type of hitter that we're alluding to. ... And he's a great guy, no question. I like the guy. He's a professional hitter; he plays hard; he's a good player." Piniella's opinion of Ibanez has done a flip-flop in less than 10 years. When Ibanez was in the Mariners organization the first time -- mostly during Piniella's highly successful tenure as the Seattle manager from 1993-2002 -- he saw only limited action. Piniella always had doubts about Ibanez's offensive ability -- resulting in the outfielder becoming a free agent prior to the 2001 season. Bloomquist, who has spent his entire career with the Mariners, batting .263 with six home runs and 98 RBIs in 540 games while playing seven positions, probably will sign with a National League club, while Cairo, who played in 108 games last season as a backup infielder/outfielder, could wind up playing for his 10th MLB organization during a 17-year professional career.
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.