Ichiro! Is Back!

So, I’ve been less than totally invested in the Mariners’ Spring Training this year, because Mariners.  I follow a bunch of beat writers and the like, and during their press conference tweet storms, I catch glimpses of what’s going on.  Erasmo Ramirez got injured pretty early on.  Mitch Haniger swung a bat too much and got sore?  Jesus Christ!  Other guys, like Heredia, Vincent, Phelps, and many others I’m forgetting right now are coming back from offseason injuries or a 2017 season of gross overuse.  Felix got hit on an arm, and so on and so forth.

The latest fucking tragedy to befall this cursed team is Ben Gamel straining an oblique somehow (again, I don’t care, about any of this).  He’s out “4-6 weeks” which really means “6-8 weeks, and will continue to suck as he tries to work his way back into shape, so probably count on him being useless and actively hurting this team for a full 12 weeks”.  For those of you counting at home, that’s three outfielders – Heredia, Haniger, and now Gamel – all dealing with injuries of varying severity.  Our only remaining starting-calibre outfielder is Dee Gordon, who has literally never played an inning of outfield in a regular season Major League game.

Neat, huh?  So that means the team really needed to go out and get another guy.  Preferably a guy with Major League experience, a guy who’s prone to stay healthy, a guy who won’t cost a whole lot, and a guy who’s had recent success at the Major League level.  And yeah, I guess you could argue Ichiro checks off all those boxes.

  • Major League experience?  How about 17 years?
  • Healthy?  I really only remember one or two bad years where he had some injuries with the Mariners, but he’s certainly not a guy living on the DL.
  • Won’t cost a lot?  How’s $750,000 for a 1-year deal?  That certainly won’t break the bank.
  • Recent success?  Well, that’s debatable.

Let’s dig into that a little bit.  Obviously, we’re not getting Prime Ichiro.  He was past his prime when we traded him away to the Yankees back in 2012.  It’s 6 years later!  He’s essentially been a part-time player ever since, with his plate appearances dwindling every season for the last 3 years.  He had a couple decent years with the Yankees, one really bad year with the Marlins in 2015, then bounced back to have a pretty good year in 2016.  Last year, he had that dreadful first half, but bounced back with a second half that saw him hit .299.

Obviously, he’s got zero pop in his bat whatsoever.  I mean, he was never all that big a power hitter, but this is insane.  Nevertheless, he’s never really tried being a power hitter; that’s not his game.  He knows his game, and so he should be fine doing what he does.  We won’t be counting on him to leadoff; he’ll almost certainly be batting 9th in any regular season lineup he’s in.  He keeps himself in great shape, he still plays quality defense, and honestly I take great comfort in having another solid professional in the locker room.  I don’t care about leadership or anything like that – though, I’m sure he won’t shy away from helping out a teammate when asked – I just want a guy who goes about his business, does his job, and will hopefully come up big in big moments like he used to.

And, when those other guys come back healthy, he’s a nice 4th or 5th outfielder to have.  Because none of these fucking guys (especially Haniger) can stay healthy for a full season.

This isn’t the same as Griffey returning.  This isn’t a PR stunt to sell tickets and get fans to sit around remembering 1995 all over again.  Ichiro can still play.  Not as Ichiro!, but sort of as Yoda from The Empire Strikes Back.  Old, wise, a little loopy (I mean, seriously, playing until he’s 50?), but can still school your ass on occasion.