Ichiro Suzuki is a polarizing figure in Mariners baseball these days. So before we get into this let me preface everything by saying I’m a big Ichiro fan. From the minute I landed in Seattle I knew which jersey I’d be wearing. That white 51 jersey has seen me through some monstrous blowouts and sweet victories in more than one big league stadium. Recently there’s been a few rumors that the slap-hitting outfielder might actually be back in Seattle in the coming season and I think this warrants some serious discussion.
The Seattle Mariners should not bring Ichiro back.
Ichiro left the Mariners back in 2012 when he was traded to the Yankees. At the time it was seen as a generous move by Mariners’ management. Ichiro is in the twilight of his career, and wanted a shot to play in the World Series. I have fond memories of that week when Ichiro suited up in pinstripes for the first time and was greeted by a standing ovation from the Seattle crowd. I’m sure I wasn’t alone in wishing him well as he went in search for his championship.
After yesterday’s rumor began, I immediately got some backlash from other Mariners fans. Most common was that the Mariners should not be bringing him back, simply because they don’t NEED him. I’m inclined to agree. As with all baseball players, we need to look at this from both an offensive and defensive point of view.
Firstly, lets take a look at the Mariners’ outfield depth chart and free agency dates:
Obviously a few of these guys can bounce between positions, namely Jones and Denorfia.
In this list, both Denorfia and Chavez are up for free agency, and while the Mariners list Logan Morrison as a right fielder, there certainly isn’t really a case for seeing him play a lot of time there.
The outfield lineup of Ackley-Jackson-Saunders is likely to take 90% of the starts in 2015, leaving any returning players or new additions as bench players. The question then becomes: If the Mariners do pick up Ichiro, where does he play? Ichiro played in 143 games for the Yankees this season, getting the start in roughly half of those games. Should the Mariners bring him to Seattle he’ll be looking at the same or less playing time than that.
It’s not an issue of capabilities, Ichiro put up a .986 fielding percentage in his 128 field appearances this season, its an issue of space. Even if Michael Saunders get’s hurt again (As Jack Z keeps predicting), the Mariners are trying to groom James Jones. Jones put up an identical .986 fld% over 98 games this season with the Mariners.
But how about at the plate?
Ichiro is rumored to be searching for a home to slap his 3,000th MLB hit before he retires. He’s currently only 156 shy at 2,844. Realistically, he’ll need a season and a half to make it there. Ichiro is coming off of his lowest hit-total season at only 102, granted he only had 385 plate appearances on the season. If he were to come to Seattle, I’ve already shown that he’d be looking at similar-to-less playing time than what he had in New York.
For his part, Ichiro still has a decent bat. He was never a power hitter, so it’s not like age will ruin him at the plate. As such, he still managed a .284 average this season. It’s a far cry from the .300+ that we saw from him in the last decade, but it still would have been better than all but one Seattle Mariner this season (everyone’s favorite Cano). Even All-Star Kyle Seager was under at .268 (yes, I know, sample size is everything and Seager had double the plate appearances as Ichiro).
So his bat might be an asset to the Mariners, who are in search of a leadoff guy to bat ahead of Cano. But isn’t that why Austin Jackson came to town?
Put it a different way: There are other players who we need to be giving playing time to. I mentioned James Jones earlier, lets do some comparing:
The way I see it, the Mariners already have an Ichiro style player waiting in the wings, and this one is running on some significantly younger and faster legs. Why not groom Jones for that spot again?
Ichiro is one of my all time favorite players, he’s going to be in the Hall of Fame, and he’s going to be there as a Mariner. But this just isn’t the time for the M’s to be bringing him back. Seattle has the feeling of a team on the verge of greatness right now, it’s a time to be looking forward to the future and building a franchise, not reaching back and trying to resurrect the past.