Ichiro Returns

marc w · March 5, 2018 at 7:23 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

The news on Ben Gamel wasn’t good – his oblique issue that kept him out of the game a few days back would sideline him for 4 weeks or more. Even a grade 1 strain, the mildest form of the injury, averages 27 days or so for position players to return from. The M’s now know they’ll be without a player they’d penciled into their starting line-up. Meanwhile, Mitch Haniger’s hand problems have prevented him from practicing, let alone participating in Cactus League games. The M’s clearly saw their young OF as a potential strength coming into 2018, particularly with Dee Gordon adapting well to CF. But as of this morning, it had become a glaring need.

Ichiro Suzuki is now a part-time player, and at 44, it looked like his MLB career was over. The rebuilding Marlins jettisoned the three players ahead of him on the OF depth charts, but they didn’t want him back. I’m not sure what I would’ve expected from the tail end of Ichiro’s completely unique career, but I have to admit, I didn’t really see this coming. As someone so particular about every aspect of his practice to his pre-pitch routine, I would’ve imagined that a year like 2015 would’ve absolutely destroyed him. He hit .229/.282/.279 in over 400 PAs, playing for a go-nowhere club in Miami. Perhaps wanting to show that not even age could destroy his finely-wrought skill, he rebounded to hit .291/.354/.376 the next year. There – he’d proven his point. But he was back again in 2017, slumping to a mid-70s wRC+ and getting far fewer PAs. He still wasn’t done. He wanted a big league deal, and now he’ll get one: Ichiro signed a 1-year contract with the M’s today.

I’ll be clear: I think Ichiro is one of the coolest players I’ve ever seen, and cheering for him for a decade – though the absolute peaks of the franchise’s existence as well as the nadir – has been a privilege. I’m going to enjoy watching him for the M’s again, if only because he’s now doubly unique/inscrutable: he’s *Ichiro* and he’s *44 years old*. More than at any time in his career, he’ll be flanked by similar players – players trying to survive the home run boom through contact ability and defense. Thankfully, no one’s looking at him to carry the team, or even be a full-time player. That said, that Ichiro kind of makes sense here is something of a bad sign.

Ben Gamel’s ZiPS projection has a slash line of .250/.303/.384, not all that different from Ichiro’s .264/.323/.344, or from Guillermo Heredia’s .242/.323/.324. All are fractionally better than the projections of the other OFs in camp/on the 40-man, like Cam Perkins or John Andreoli. Even those who demand the M’s sign a free agent on the right side of 40 have to admit, the pickings have grown slim: CF John Jay would cost quite a bit more, and his own projections are only slightly better. No one should pay money to play Jon Jay in an OF corner. You could get Melky Cabrera, who’d be better at the plate, but with defensive metrics showing he’s been at least a full win below average every year since 2013, it would clearly go against one of Jerry Dipoto’s roster-building strategies. The best bet may be Seth Smith, but as a platoon player with defensive shortcomings, I can’t see Dipoto wanting to bring him back. Ichiro’s a glove-first guy who makes a lot of contact, so Dipoto was probably predisposed to at least kick the tires, even before you get to the whole franchise-icon thing.

So those fans who are stoked to have Ichiro back around are right to be excited: it’s ICHIRO. And those fans who see this as a move that doesn’t move the needle at all are right too. The M’s don’t look like they’ve done enough to capitalize on their decent position on the win curve, and seem to have been passed by teams from Anaheim to Minnesota, and they’ve acquired some outfielders, like Perkins, who they clearly don’t trust with even part-time fill-in duty (Perkins is older than Heredia, Haniger and Gamel, by the way). But how we, as fans, deal with this situation is up to us. I’ve seen Ichiro on good M’s teams, awful M’s teams, and middle-of-the-pack M’s teams. Ichiro made things a bit better in each situation, and watching Ichiro do Ichiro things on a frustrating M’s team is something I’ve done a hell of a lot of. I’m in for another round of it.


16 Responses to “Ichiro Returns”

  1. Westside guy on March 5th, 2018 8:43 pm

    When Ichiro left the Mariners, I thought it made perfect sense. He was getting older, and the team was getting younger and giving up on the playoffs (haha, if only we knew then what we know now).

    But I’m happy he’s back, even though it’s a sign of significant problems facing a team that needs just about everything to go right if it wants to nab a wild card spot. He’s Ichiro, and I’m looking forward to hearing the chants fill Safeco again!

  2. LongDistance on March 6th, 2018 3:16 am

    I’m OK with Ichiro. In fact, strangely enough, more. Why?
    And looking forward to that first base hit. In a perfect world, it would be a double, because the steal will (or should) never be on.

  3. mksh21 on March 6th, 2018 7:23 am

    Sad to say but as this point since we are never going to win, have a terrible farm system and injuries everywhere, might as well enjoy watching Ichiro. I hope he plays forever. No matter the player comps, projections or whatever you want to use, there is only one Ichiro.

  4. AllHailKingFefe on March 6th, 2018 12:11 pm

    USS Mariner is once again a “Seattle Mariners blog for analysis, commentary, and Ichiro admiration”

  5. leftfield limey on March 6th, 2018 2:58 pm

    I started following the Mariners because I had watched Ichiro in Japan and followed him to the States – an Ichiro fan. Having followed the Mariners since 2001 I am now a Mariners fan and probably more a Mariners fan than an Ichiro fan. As such the hiring of Ichiro would bother me were it not for the fact that this year with the farm so depleted, wages relatively high, the 40 man full of replacement level and nothing on the market other than Ohtani potentially being enough to make a difference, I have made peace with baseball and for the first time since 2001 have no expectations of the Mariners. I do not think the Mariners are realistically any where near the bubble in a division with the Astros and the Angels. I would be delighted to be proved wrong but as it is I will take enormous pleasure from seeing Ichiro play in teal again whatever the outcome.

  6. heyoka on March 6th, 2018 5:09 pm


  7. mrakbaseball on March 6th, 2018 8:03 pm

    Good to have Ichiro back in the fold to finish his MLB career where it all began. This is still a statistical analysis blog, but I can’t resist, repeal the teal.

  8. 3cardmonty on March 6th, 2018 9:28 pm

    I’m very glad to have him back and I love that the few of us left here feel similarly. LL had so much agita over it and it’s just baffling to me.

  9. MissouriMariner on March 6th, 2018 10:03 pm

    I think it is pretty cool to have him back. Something to look forward to and give him a proper send off….

  10. ripperlv on March 7th, 2018 4:49 am

    Say it ain’t so Joe. Don’t be coy Roy. Wanna mean Gene. Wadda say Jay. Watch out Houston, Git outta my way Angels, we got Ichiro. Really? Wow? My fun meter is pegged.

  11. MKT on March 7th, 2018 4:00 pm

    Ichiro’s return is fine, but secondary to how the M’s season will go. And it’s not looking good at the moment.

    Here’s an article about a history that I did not know about: how baseball in Japan was encouraged by Japanese-Americans, with a significant boost from Negro league players and the highly integrated Berkeley International League before World War II.

  12. Sowulo on March 7th, 2018 8:58 pm

    As an older guy who has now played both baseball and softball (still going strong) for 60 years, I think signing Ichiro was a mistake. I think the M’s should have found someone with more experience. ;-P

  13. MKT on March 7th, 2018 9:07 pm

    Here’s a very good, but dark, article that attempts to see what makes Ichiro tick:

  14. Sowulo on March 7th, 2018 9:51 pm

    That article says the M’s had no contact with Ichiro or his agent until February. Today on the broadcast, Jerry Dipoto said they had regular contact with him beginning in October. Contradiction.

    Also there is note of an Ichiro quote concerning his father, “He is a liar” that was never published because Ichiro asked him not to. Now this writer wrote published it. Poor Ethics.

    I suspect this author has also relied on hyperbole and a bit of cherry picking to come up with this story.

    I accept Ichiro had an ordeal of a childhood and that has certainly affected his adult personality. But I think the author wanted to sell a story worse than tell the accurate story.

  15. Soda Popinski on March 8th, 2018 2:11 pm

    Wright Thompson is probably one of the two or three best sports feature writers out there today. And Ichiro never asked him not to publish that quote, completely different author.

  16. Sowulo on March 8th, 2018 8:37 pm

    Opinions. Everyone has them. If someone promises not to publish a quote, passing it on to someone else to publish is still ethically poor reporting.

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