The Miami Marlins have continually put business before sentiment under their new ownership group led by Derek Jeter. That trend continued on Friday when the team officially declined Ichiro Suzuki’s $2 million option for 2018.
Now the question is: Where does Ichiro go from here? Or, if you’re looking for a juicier angle: Would the Seattle Mariners actually entertain the idea of bringing Ichiro back for one final run?
A lot of people seem to think that’s where this is ultimately headed.
Ichiro really was enjoying playing with the Marlins. He’s 44 and now an FA. It all screams “return to Seattle.”
— Maury Brown (@BizballMaury) November 4, 2017
But it’s not a foregone conclusion.
Here’s what we do know. Ichiro has every intention of continuing his MLB career as long as opportunities continue to present themselves. He’s been quoted many times saying he’d love to play until he’s 50. Now 44, that seems like a long shot. It’s entirely possible 45 will be too. But his desire is unwavering.
Suzuki spent the last three seasons as a reserve outfielder in Miami. He sandwiched a fairly productive 2016 season, where he slashed .291/.354/.376, in between two uninspiring seasons. At least relative to the Hall of Fame type numbers he put up during his time in Seattle. He appeared in a career-low 136 games in 2017, hitting just .255/.318/.332.
Having produced just one season of above-average production in the last seven (as measured by measure of OPS+), it seems safe to assume his days as even a productive bench player are numbered. He still plays decent enough defense, but his overall skill set is not surprisingly in decline. For example, over his first 16 seasons, Ichiro stole at least 10 bases each season. That dropped to one in 2017. His offensive value is essentially limited to hitting singles (only nine of 50 hits in 2017 went for extra bases).
Even if it’s not the most popular decision, it’s the right move for a Marlins team that’s looking to change course. They could have a vastly different look next season assuming they go through with trading Giancarlo Stanton and Dee Gordon this winter. Ichiro represents another connection to the past that this regime seems eager to leave behind.
With the Marlins out, his realistic options will be limited. Teams will obviously call and gauge interest, but how many can promise Ichiro a real shot to make the roster? Besides that, they would have to be content knowing he’s not likely to change a game with one swing, and won’t offer much in other areas.
To put it bluntly, the upside in signing Ichiro is minimal. At least from a baseball standpoint. From a business perspective, history and nostalgia can go a long way. That’s where the Mariners would come in. They’re as likely as any team to produce the baseline offer of a minor-league deal. And they might be the one team willing to promise a little more knowing what it could mean from a marketing standpoint.
Trust us, they were paying attention when Ichiro returned to Seattle with the Marlins in April. Unsurprisingly, he provided a great moment too, hitting a home run in what many figured would be his last at-bat at Safeco Field.
It could come down to what the Mariners are willing to sacrifice on the field. Because remember, ending baseball’s longest postseason drought is a priority too. Given recent disappointments, their urgency should be greater than ever. And having seen the Astros run away in the division and ultimately win the World Series, they’ve been reminded how little the margin for error is in the AL West.
It could even come down to what Ichiro is willing to sacrifice too. He plays with a lot of pride. We wouldn’t think he’d be willing to simply fill a spot, knowing it’s not entirely a baseball decision. He wants to contribute in a meaningful way, which means his future could still go in many different directions.
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