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Daily coverage of the Mariners during the season and all year long.

February 23, 2007 at 5:40 PM

Pitch to Ichiro?

Only a matter of time before a story like this one was bound to pop up. I’m sure fans will be thrilled to know the Mariners have to wait all the way until…the first road trip of the season for Ichiro to see Boston. Would the Bosox use their new $100-million man to get another big-time Japanese name to Beantown?
Are you kidding me? The Bosox spent the entire winter re-configuring their marketing strategy to cater to the Japanese community and the loads of new revenue they figure Dice-K is worth. Imagine Ichiro in that mix, filling that leadoff spot that’s looked oh-so-vacant ever since Johnny Damon left? This isn’t necessarily bad news for Mariners fans. Of all the places the M’s could get a hefty return on any Ichiro trade, Boston would be at the top of the list. And GM Bill Bavasi wouldn’t need the Diceman to do any sales pitch on Boston’s virtues since Ichiro can’t veto any trades.
So, if the Mariners really are serious about getting an Ichiro extension done, they’ll have to get moving. The longer they wait, the more the season plays out, there’s a chance of Matsuzaka or somebody else getting into Ichiro’s ear. Think that never happens, or is overstated?
I knew Juan Samuel fairly well back when he was still playing, visited with him in the Dominican Republic and stuff, and remember when the Detroit Tigers hired him as a coach in 1999. Samuel was on pretty chummy terms with then superstar Juan Gonzalez, on-pace to break baseball’s single-season RBI record for a time. Everyone laughed back then when it was leaked that the lowly, bottom-feeding Tabbies were going to make a push to land Gonzalez.
Impossible! The pundits laughed. There were plenty of teams ready to throw serious coin at Juan-Gone and the Tigers — moving into a cavernous ballpark — couldn’t possibly hope to lure him!
Well, low and behold, the almighty Gonzalez did go to Detroit (his career fell apart from there, but that’s a tale for another day) as a free-agent in 2000. And one of the big reasons was Samuel whispering in his ear. Now, Sammy is a great guy, learned baseball man and had always seemed like someone who’d make an ideal coach or manager. But even he knew back then that a huge reason he was being hired was to deliver the prize on Detroit’s doorstep. And deliver he did.
In case anyone hasn’t noticed, the Red Sox don’t face the same issues as the 1999 Tigers. Yeah, they have a tougher media, but if it’s the playoffs Ichiro really cares about, he could do worse than heading to Fenway Park. From what I’m told — and what Dice-K will no doubt mention — the money ain’t too shabby either.
Waiting until after the season to try to ink a free-agent Ichiro would very clearly involve some stiff competition for the Mariners. If it’s a trade the M’s want, that has to happen sooner than season’s end. Taking things right up to the July 31 deadline could help maximize a deal. But it could also backfire if a trade falls through at the last minute — we’ve seen that happen all too often — and the Mariners are left holding the proverbial bag on a commodity with rapidly dwindling value.
It will be very interesting to watch this play out. Especially if Ichiro doesn’t do an about-face and sign before the regular season. If he truly wants to guage the talent on this Seattle ballclub, the pressure for the M’s to win will be ratcheted up even further. You’ve gotta love it if you’re a fan. This is, as we know, a last-place team. With all that could happen in coming months, it’s doubtful any of it will make that team worse off than it already is.
See you all tomorrow! Jose Lopez is expected to field ground balls by Sunday…so we’ll check in on him — and Mark Lowe — once again.
****CORRECTION**** Once again, the long hours down here are fiddling with my brain and recall abilities. Yes, of course, as reader Sean points out, Gonzalez did not sign with Detroit as a free agent, but was traded to the Tigers, along with pitcher Danny Patterson and catcher Gregg Zaun, for pitchers Justin Thompson, Francisco Cordero, Alan Webb, catcher Bill Haselman, infielder Frank Catalanotto and outfielder Gabe Kapler. Two current and former Blue Jays in that deal, so not sure how my mind blanked. But the premise remains the same, since Gonzalez had to be coaxed into coming over to Detroit behind the scenes and had given indications he would think about signing a multi-year deal. Had those back-channel indications not been given (with Samuel being one of the channelers) this deal likely never would have gone through because it was too big a risk. Unfortunately — or perhaps fortunately for the Tigers — Gonzalez turned down a seven-year, $148-million offer and was gone after one season. His career soon followed him out the door.
But I am appropriately red-faced.



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