Sorry for not writing here much for the last couple of weeks, but our 11 day trip to the Northwest was a much needed break, and my wife and I enjoyed just getting away for a while. Thanks to Seattle and Victoria for the fantastic weather while we were in town, and to Felix for being amazing on Saturday night. I’ve been playing catchup for the last few days since getting back to the oppressive heat and humidity of the east coast, but figured it’s probably time to talk about Ichiro again.
Yesterday, Jay Buhner made it clear what he thinks about the team giving Ichiro a multi-year extension, using language that might get him uninvited from spring training next year. And, over at FanGraphs, Michael Barr tackled the idea of honoring Ichiro by not letting him create more unpleasant memories beyond this season. While Ichiro has always been somewhat of a polarizing figure, it appears to me that there’s something of a consensus forming among those who follow this team closely – no one really wants Ichiro back next year.
And yes, I’m in that group too. I’ve defended Ichiro for years against unfounded criticisms about his skillset, his personality, and attitudes that are more about cultural differences than anything else, but it’s impossible to ignore the reality that Ichiro just isn’t a very good player anymore. He showed some signs of life early in the season, but he’s been an absolute disaster for the last couple of months, and even his speed and defense don’t offset the nothing offensive player he’s become.
Even giving him full credit for his defense, Ichiro’s at +1.8 WAR over 1,119 plate appearances in the last two seasons, which makes him about as valuable as Willie Bloomquist. In fact, there’s not a lot of differences between Ichiro and Willie anymore, and based on overall ability to contribute to a contender, they’re about equally useful. If you were building a contender with no regards to ego or salary, you might be fine with having both as part-time guys, but if you’re a rebuilding team, you’re looking for something else entirely. From a performance perspective, the Mariners should be no more interested in giving Ichiro a starting job next year than they would be giving one to Bloomquist.
Ichiro had a great career in Seattle. As Jack said the other day, he is a franchise icon. But, the reality is that he has nothing left to offer the Mariners, and the organization shouldn’t be a charity for players who want to keep on playing well past the time when they’re useful on-field performers. The team already went through the painful end with Ken Griffey Jr in 2010, and should not be in any kind of hurry to repeat that situation.
Yes, there are dynamics in play with the ownership and Ichiro’s desire to hit some milestones in America, such as getting to 3,000 hits. It’s probably not as easy as just telling him thanks for the great years and moving on. But, regardless of the politics, that’s exactly what the Mariners need to do. They don’t employ Edgar Martinez, Jay Buhner, or Dan Wilson in an on-field capacity anymore, because while they’re beloved franchise heros, they aren’t capable of helping the team win. The organization needs to begin to view Ichiro in that same light.
If he wants to keep playing in the US, tell him you’ll have no hard feelings watching him in another uniform, and wish him luck getting to play for a contender. If he wants to go back to Japan and finish his career there, have a huge party that celebrates Ichiro’s accomplishments as a Mariner and puts the spotlight back on his productive years as a vital cog on some really good teams. But if he wants to open 2013 as a member of the Mariners 25 man roster, the answer should be “I’m sorry, but that opportunity isn’t available.”
Ichiro was a great player, but at this point in his career, it’s time for the organization to begin to look for his replacement. They have to do what’s in the best interests of the Mariners. And in this case, those interests are best served by concluding his career in Seattle in 2012.