Ichiro Suzuki returns to the Mariners after 5+ years with the Yankees and Marlins
Some Mariner fans are elated. Some are skeptical. And some are disgusted.
Whichever camp you may find yourself in, the fact of the matter is that, at age 44, Ichiro Suzuki is a Mariner once more.
Personally, I am in the first camp. I have always loved watching Ichiro play, and I'm delighted to get the chance to see him in person once again at Safeco Field. That Ichiro has the opportunity to continue his Major League career at all is satisfying, and getting to see him climb up the hits leaderboard back in a Mariners jersey is a sweet, sweet bonus.
But I get where the skeptics are coming from. Ichiro at 44 is not Ichiro at 27 or even Ichiro at 39. He's not going to play that much (except maybe at the beginning of the season as we wait for Ben Gamel to recover from injury), and when he does he isn't going to have the same blazing Ichiro speed we remember from the aughts. He may or may not generate stats below "replacement level." But the way I see it is, no matter what kind of numbers Ichiro puts up, he makes the bench better—even if all he does is prevent the M's from repeating the dubious practice of carrying 13 pitchers, as they've done much of the last few years, he's improved the team by reinstating in-game options that were lacking every time the Mariners found themselves in the late innings of a tight game with only Chooch Ruiz or Mike Freeman on the bench.
Ichiro's is a brilliant baseball mind, he has a lot to offer the younger players and can be an unofficial advisor to Scott Servais. But I think he can still produce on the field.
The disgust camp has used the return of Ken Griffey Jr. to the M's in 2009-2010 as an illustration of why signing Ichiro was a bad move. There are similarities to the two situations, to be sure—both Griffey and Ichiro are franchise icons that started their MLB Hall-of-Fame careers in Seattle and became near-instant superstars. Both eventually requested trades out of impatience and irritation with the Howard Lincoln/Chuck Armstrong regime's apathy toward success on the field. Both gambled on getting the elusive World Series ring with another club and failed to get one, and both would return to the Northwest at the tail end of their playing years.
But Ichiro is not Ken Griffey Jr. Griffey managed one mediocre campaign in '09 before quitting the team in the dead of night in what appeared to the public to be a fit of childish pique over his lack of production in mid-2010, an attitude that is unimaginable for Ichiro. Ichiro is one of a kind, perhaps the most disciplined and tenaciously fit player to ever lace up a pair of spikes, and honestly wants to play at least until he's 50. And if there was ever a player that could do it, he's the one.
Of course, Ichiro has to take it one season at a time now. It took three-quarters of the projected 2018 outfield contingent nursing injuries for the Mariners to even contemplate bringing Ichiro back, and there's no telling what future offers might look like if he produces another .250/.300/.330-type batting line. Some are assuming this will be Ichiro's final year in the bigs, but I predict at least one more. And given what he's meant to the Mariners, frankly, the club ought to keep him around as long as he wants.
What's your opinion of Ichiro's homecoming? Sound off in the comments below!
Senior Moments: Position players age 44 and older
At 44 years old, Ichiro is the second-oldest active player in the Majors, five months younger than pitcher Bartolo Colón, currently on a minor-league contract with the Texas Rangers. The next-oldest position player is Adrian Beltre, also with Texas, at 39.
There have been six players in history to play continually in the Majors to age 44 or beyond. (A number of players, whom we are not counting, had brief "stunt-casting" returns—often just one at-bat—after years of inactivity in the early and mid 20th century, most recently 54-year-old Minnie Minoso in 1980.) How will Ichiro compare? Time and tenacity will tell.