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May 16, 2007 at 2:08 PM

My take on Ichiro

Someone down below asked what I thought about Ichiro and what will happen with him. Ichiro seems to be the day’s hot internet topic, what with the USA Today story I linked to below as well as those rumors of a house purchase in Los Angeles.
My answer is simple. I don’t think the Mariners want to pay him the $15 million to $20 million per season that is said to be his asking price. From what I’m hearing behind the scenes, no firm asking price has been established. But if the Mariners were serious about keeping him beyond this year and Ichiro was really certain about wanting to return, this deal would have been done this winter. Sources inside the organization told me back in November that the goal was to get Ichiro’s signature on a contract before spring training.
Obviously, that hasn’t happened. So, no, I don’t think Ichiro is bluffing when he muses aloud about seeking other opportunities via free agency. But I also don’t think the Mariners will be crying real tears if he leaves for a price in the range I mentioned above.
Take a look at the crowd at Safeco Field last night. It was the return of Felix Hernandez, against one of the hottest pitchers in the AL, Kelvim Escobar, and an Angels squad the M’s are trying to catch for first place. Considering all that, it was a huge disappointment to see so many empty seats. They were empty, despite the presence of Ichiro in a Mariners uniform. This team could probably draw the same 21,000 on a Tuesday night next year without paying Ichiro $18 million for the privilege.
This is not meant to denigrate Ichiro in any way. I was one of the handful of writers who had him first on my MVP ballot back in 2001. Without that vote and maybe one or two others, he is not named MVP. I was sold on Ichiro’s on-field value a long time ago. But to be honest, I have not seen a lot of that value this year. I have not seen him shake pitchers up with his mere presence alone the way he’s done previously. There have been too many nights this season when I’ve forgotten he was even in the lineup.
Tuesday night was an exception to that. Ichiro was clearly a de-stabilizing force and his basepath presence helped do Escobar in far earlier than any team has managed to-date against that pitcher. I’m not saying Ichiro has to get five hits every single night. But he has to have a bigger impact than he’s had on games thus far for me to advocate shelling out the kind of dough reserved for big-time sluggers like Vernon Wells or Alfonso Soriano. Again, they are different types of hitters. But for Ichiro to be effective with his line-drive-hitting attack, he has to employ all facets of his game and that includes running the bases. For a guy with so many consecutive stolen bases, I sure don’t see him forcing the issue with successful steals at key moments the way I used to. Perhaps it is selective memory on my part. But I just don’t see $18 million per season in value there right now. Not so far in 2007. Even with his terrific defense in center. And that means value both on and off the field.
To conclude, this feels very much like two sides bracing for an inevitable parting of ways. Talking to Ichiro last night, it was like pulling teeth trying to find out if he felt the team had learned how to win without the crutch of having Felix Hernandez around every five days. It was almost like Ichiro was going out of his way not to say something nice about his own team. I used one of his quotes from that exchange in my previous blog entry and then pointed out the team’s record.
Now, perhaps, Ichiro is just employing his own lofty standard to the Mariners and does not want to make it sound as if being a game over .500 in Hernandez’s absence is cause for celebration. That could be the case.
Or maybe, like so many skeptical fans and media — including myself — he just isn’t sold on this “Fuzzyball” team’s brand of winning. Perhaps he figures, deep in his heart, that the other shoe will drop sooner or later. Either way, based on what I’ve seen, I doubt the Mariners will be of much concern to him a year from now.



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