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September 22, 2010 at 8:29 AM

Ichiro about to notch another 200-hit season, despite the turmoil around him

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Safe to say, few major league teams have been through the type of season the Mariners have experienced. Run down all of the soap-opera quality episodes this team has dealt with in 2010 and you can appreciate the achievement that Ichiro once again notching 200 hits represents.
Yes, many of those hits, as was the case last season, will be infield singles. And it’s true, Ichiro’s power numbers took a big step back this season, much as they took an unexpected leap forward last year. There can be no denying it. The 200-hit campaign gets tougher each season and Ichiro has slowed down relative to past years.
But there is significance to the 200 hits. First, they allow Ichiro to maintain an above-average on-base percentage despite a relatively low walk rate. Ichiro’s OBP is at a team-best .362 at the moment and his 197 hits, with four more last night in Toronto, have much to do with it.
By the way, we’re not in Toronto for this series. We opted more than a month ago to skip it and hire a freelancer, using the extra money to do things like cover the Storm on the road as they captured the WNBA title. I’ll be back with the team in Tampa Bay after the Toronto series is done.
Yes, the Mariners made a bunch of call-ups last night, including Greg Halman, Matt Mangini, Mike Carp and Anthony Varvaro. No, Dustin Ackley and Josh Lueke are not coming up. Both will be in the Arizona Fall League in October and could use a rest. As for Lueke, his status as a convicted felon on probation through the 2012 season means the Mariners would have needed to apply for permission to have him travel across the border into Canada for the Toronto series and you can’t just do that on a whim. Has to be done well in advance.
Also, the team already has Dan Cortes up in the bullpen and he’s yet to see any action so far, so I’m not sure how much time Lueke would see having him up for the final week of the season. In other words, there are implications that go beyond public relations where he is concerned, though that obviously cannot be ruled out.
As to what this means for his 2011 status, I’d rather not speculate. As I’ve said all along,the Mariners have a decision to make where Lueke is concerned. The fact that he’s on the Class AAA roster is not indicative of any decision having been made. Once he’s up in the majors, we’ll know what the team has decided. That’s all I want to say about it for now, since I don’t run the Mariners. Howard Lincoln can rest easy!!!!!! (The exclamation points are a joke, BTW).
Back to Ichiro, clearly he’s not notching the extra-base and non-infield hits the way he once did, but he still brings value to the team in his OBP and his defense. He has been the M’s top overall position player this season and that can’t be scoffed at, given his age. He’s about to tie Pete Rose for the most 200-hit seasons in a career with 10, though Ichiro’s 10 consecutive 200-hit campaigns will add to the record he already broke last year.
And that’s it. There is no “but” coming from me on this.
Ichiro is what he is. Slowing down with age, but he gives you, more or less, what he always has by way of sheer volume of hits and speed on the basepaths. The decision to pay him $18 million per season was made by the Mariners and he’d have been a fool not to take it.
Now, the ball is in the M’s court.


The idea of trading Ichiro, as some have mentioned here, was something best handled a year ago, when he put up some of the best numbers of his career and did not have the 10-and-5 veto rights he will have come Oct. 4. That’s 10 major league seasons and five with the same clubs, giving him the right to veto any trade and pretty much dictate where he winds up. I don’t forsee a trade within the coming week, so he’s pretty much attained his status.
That said, given his contract, the idea of getting back anything of value for Ichiro, who is Seattle property through 2012, is something you can pretty much forget. That’s a lot of money on-the-books. The fact that some of it is deferred means little. It all counts on a team’s yearly payroll. So, among the handful of teams that could afford Ichiro, there’s little likelihood they would part with significant pieces as well.
And going forward, the team could do worse that having Ichiro as the leadoff man. Yes, Chone Figgins is still here and would possibly make a better leadoff man and having both will be a problem given their skillsets on a power-deprived team that needs all the payroll bucks it can find.
Still, that’s not Ichiro’s problem. That’s the team’s problem. And it’s going to be up to the Mariners, as a team, to surround Ichiro with players who make sense. Figgins could be a real asset to some teams. But his value is limited on a team that already has Ichiro, needs power at corner spots and doesn’t figure to contend any time soon.
So, it’s up to the Mariners to get cracking on that. Because on the right team, surrounded by the right primary players, Ichiro, like Figgins, could be a huge asset. The fact that he still gets 200 hits a year demonstrates that. On a team with capable hitters in the middle of the order, Ichiro would easily score 100 runs like he used to.
And Ichiro will accomplish the 200-hit feat this year surrounded by a team in turmoil. A team where his friend and somewhat-mentor, Ken Griffey Jr., bolted in controversy back in early June. There have been a lot of excuses made for why certain players have not attained their numbers this year. But Ichiro has attained the numbers most expected of him. No one expects him to hit 20 home runs and drive in 100.
But he is expected to get on base, which he has done. And he is expected, by the team and especially by himself, to notch 200 hits.
That’s a good starting point for any team to build off of.
The fact that Ichiro is paid like a primary superstar rather than the complementary piece he’d now be on a playoff caliber team is not his fault. That’s on the team itself. The ownership group that is paying him $18 million to play on a $90 million team.
Ichiro isn’t going anywhere. Infield hits or not, I think he has an excellent shot at compiling 3,000 major league hits by the year 2014. Whether that’s still in a Mariners uniform remains to be seen. But chances are, he’s going to serve out his current contract in Seattle.
And it will be up to this team’s management group to surround him with the players needed to propel the Mariners to the next level. Not the other way around. Ichiro is not a perfect ballplayer. He is what he is. And what he is doing is pretty much as good as it’s going to get with him.
Time for this franchise to up its own game.

Comments | Topics: Chone Figgins

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