The Mariners Signing Ichiro Isn’t the End of the World

PHOENIX, AZ - JUNE 19: Ichiro Suzuki
PHOENIX, AZ - JUNE 19: Ichiro Suzuki /

Break out the pitch forks. The Mariners and former superstar Ichiro Suzuki have agreed on a 1 year deal. In the wake of the recent Ben Gamel injury news, the Mariners were seemingly without a left fielder entering the regular season. Enter Ichiro.

The Mariners and Ichiro ended their first marriage back in 2012 when he was traded to the New York Yankees for pitchers D.J Mitchell and Danny Farquhar. Now, it seems Ichiro will return to the Emerald City. The deal may seem like the Mariners are simply trying to write a Cinderella story where one of their greatest players retires in their jersey. It’s not unheard of. The M’s made a similar move with Ken Griffey Jr.

The Ichiro deal is garnering a mixed back of reactions. On one hand, it’s nice to see a generational talent return to where it all began. On the other, a team on the verge of contending like the Mariners might need to be spending money on something other than a 44-year-old outfielder. Let’s delve into the deal a bit further and see if we can make sense of the whole thing.

In 2017, Ichiro hit .255/.318/.352 in 196 at bats. Breaking it down even further, Ichiro was a .220 hitter in the first half and a .299 hitter in the 2nd. He had 17 less at bats in the second half with 99 but had 15 less strikeouts and 5 more walks. The days of 200+ hits and 30+ bases is over but that doesn’t mean the Ichiro can’t contribute to the big league club. He can control the zone and work a walk when need be. He’s not going to strikeout a lot. He will stay healthy (which seems like an impossible task for the Mariners) and can provide, at worst, a reliable 4th outfielder.

Guillermo Heredia, who may have been given the left field job had no move been made, accumulated a 0 WAR in 2017 after an abysmal 2nd half where he hit .219 with 36 strikeouts and 11 walks. A shoulder injury hampered much of Heredia’s season and will continue to be monitored as he progresses back this Spring.

It is unlikely that Heredia would be ready for everyday playing time by Opening Day so a daily platoon would be deployed in left field. Ichiro provides a veteran presence in an outfield that will see Dee Gordon playing his first season in Center and Mitch Haniger who will be entering his second full season.

The biggest problem with signing a free agent is that they have to want to come here. Gamel’s 1.6 WAR in 2017 is hard to replace on a low-cost deal. Carlos Gonzalez seems like he would have been a good fit but his -0.2 WAR in 2017 is hardly worse than Ichiro’s. Gonzalez would command more money than Ichiro on a one year deal and would also likely command more playing time than Ichiro once Gamel returns, meaning less at bats for the 25-year-old. Gonzalez would not come to the Mariners if he was told that he would be splitting time with Gamel’s in left since he is trying to rebuild his value.

Cargo did provide a 2.0 WAR in 2016 after a torrid second half but it is hard to tell if he could return to that form and how those numbers would translate at Safeco Field. Gonzalez has also only played 140+ games 4 times in his 10 year career as he too has been hampered by the injury bug.

Other options remain of course. Melky Cabrera is also still a free agent. He provided a 98 wRC+ in 2017, also with a 0 WAR after hitting .285/.325/.483. Of course, the same argument would be made for Melky that he would want more playing time and money than Ichiro.

The Mariners did not seem comfortable standing pat with Heredia in left and then maybe someone like Taylor Motter or Andrew Romine as the 4th outfielder. The M’s like both Ian Miller and Braden Bishop, and while both players are viable, I would think that they both need some more time in the minors. Bishop has never played above AA and Miller hit .268 in 41 games with Tacoma in 2017.

My colleague, Michael Johnson, did note that the M’s will have to make a spot of Ichiro on the 40 man roster. This means someone will need to be released. Mike Morin is a good possibility.

I’m not saying that Ichiro is the answer. In fact, I know he is not the answer.  I understand the gripes. Its been a frustrating offseason for the M’s. They did not add a starting pitchers like we all believe they should have done. They haven’t made many moves at all.  But I don’t think that two months of Ichiro is going to make or break this team.

When Gamel returns, Ichiro can fall into a 4th OF spot. A lot had to go right for the M’s to make the playoffs this year and so far, things are not going swell. Erasmo and Healy are both questionable for Opening Day. Felix and Haniger have both been day-to-day with injuries. Now Gamel is out for the foreseeable future.

The M’s are in a tough spot. Maybe (Probably not) they use money they could have spent on Cargo on a Lance Lynn or Alex Cobb. Ichiro is not a slam dunk but he is not an anchor either. He has always been healthy, and that is something the Mariners need right now. He can act as a stop-gap until Gamel is healthy.

Next: Mariners Prospect Ian Miller Ready to Help Seattle

One way or another, these next few months are going to be interesting. I personally would love to see Ichiro retire in a Mariners jersey. Maybe not under these circumstances, but it could be worse. Welcome home, Ichiro, welcome home.