Raul Ibañez received laurels from his Royals teammates in the second half of 2014. The younger players gushed about his influence inside the clubhouse even as his on-field contributions waned. At 42, Ibañez appears in an ideal position to transition into a non-playing role.
Other clubs have noticed. Both Ibañez and Royals bench coach Don Wakamatsu were on the eight-man list of managerial candidates released by Tampa Bay on Thursday afternoon.
Wakamatsu remains under contract with the Royals. The club granted him permission to interview. In September, the Astros reached out to Wakamatsu after they fired manager Bo Porter. Wakamatsu asked to delay any discussions until the Royals’ season ended. In the interim, Houston hired A.J. Hinch.
Wakamatsu managed the Mariners in 2009 and 2010. He shared in-game strategic duties with Pedro Grifol, the team’s catching coach and former hitting coach, as lieutenants to manager Ned Yost. General manager Dayton Moore announced on Wednesday the entire staff would return for 2015.
Ibañez is not under contract with the Royals. He thumped 29 home runs in 2013, but appeared to run out of gas this season. He hit .188 as a Royal. The club left him off the playoff roster for each of their three series.
But Ibañez still affected those around him, members of the team insisted. He suggested the players-only meeting in July that the club later marked as a turning point.
After the season ended, the Yankees harbored interest in interviewing Ibañez for their vacant hitting coach position, the New York Post reported.