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July 23, 2012 at 4:58 PM

Time will tell whether end of Ichiro in Seattle truly is the end of another era for the Mariners

There has been speculation ever since I’ve been in Seattle that the day Ichiro left the team would be the day majority owner Hiroshi Yamauchi truly stepped aside. Yamuachi exchanged his shares with Redmond-based Nintendo Of America back in 2004 for “estate planning purposes” but remains titular head of the team.
And the news today that Ichiro in fact requested a trade out of Seattle several weeks ago confirms that the Yamauchi-led ownership group did indeed grant Ichiro’s wishes as to how he wanted his career to end. He wanted it to end outside of the only organization he has ever known in MLB, a choice made — according to CEO Howard Lincoln — because he was no longer a fit with a young, rebuilding club.
Make no mistake. This was never a move that GM Jack Zduriencik could have come up with on his own. And that’s why, in the initial release announcing the trade, it was CEO Lincoln doing the talking.
This was an ownership decision all the way, granting Ichiro his final wish on the Seattle baseball scene. And it many ways, it was an ownership decision several years back that paved the road out of the Emerald City for Ichiro.
Photo Credit: AP

Two years ago next month, the Times published a “Bottoming Out” series that delved into how Seattle’s losing sports teams were going to rebound from some disastrous seasons. The Mariners were en route to losing 101 games in 2010 and the story written back then looked at how the team’s cost-cutting was going to have the impact of turning Ichiro’s contract into an albatross no matter how well he played.
Back then, Ichiro was having his final above average statistical season for the Mariners, but he and Chone Figgins combined took up more than 29 percent of payroll.
As of this morning, the pair was eating up one third of the team’s further-reduced $82 million payroll.
And it just wasn’t sustainable. It prevented the Mariners from constructing a competitive major league roster by supplementing a youthful core with even mid-tier free agents.
Here’s what was written back then, in August 2010:
So, the same problems will still exist if this team goes forward with the Ichiro-Figgins duo next season. Two guys taking up nearly 30 percent of payroll with average-to-below-average slugging skills at traditional power positions. On a team that desperately needs more offense.
The solution? Not one the team wants to hear.
It has to increase payroll. More to something along the lines of the $118 million spent in 2008. Don’t forget, it’s not just bats this team needs. It needs more starting pitchers as well.
And it doesn’t matter that Bill Bavasi failed to spend his $118 million very wisely. Doesn’t mean Jack Zduriencik will be unable to do so.

Instead, the team went the opposite route. The skills of Ichiro and Figgins declined from where they were in 2010.
And so, here we are today.
Just to be clear: this parting of ways had to happen. The decisions taken by the people running the Mariners left Ichiro with no other choice but to leave. His salary was unworkable the minute the first cost-slashing began after 2008 and was allowed to continue dropping after an 85-win season in 2009.
The only time Ichiro’s five-year contract extension made sense was in the first year of it in 2008, when the team hiked payroll up to $118 million. No, not so Bavasi could squander the added funds on free agent busts.
But so that this team could build a proper roster. With a real supporting cast. Not by making a complementary player into the highest paid position player on your team and then giving every other position player half of that or less.
That’s not how you build a roster in MLB. That’s doomed roster construction from the get-go, for those who like to toss around such topics.
And the results have become painfully obvious two years later. It wasn’t Ichiro’s fault. He took the money that was offered to him back when this ownership had one “plan” and then became a liability overnight when the same ownership embarked on an entirely different route from what it had mapped out in 2007.
Now, Ichiro gets to finish his career with a team that can afford to accomodate him.
And the Mariners? We’ll know soon enough whether the end of an era with Ichiro will ultimately be followed by the end of the Yamauchi era in Seattle.
Both have had a long run, filled with highs and lows. And among all of those, this moment has to rank among the saddest for both. There’s no way either envisioned this moment five years ago.
But it had to happen.

Comments | Topics: Chone Figgins


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