Aug 10, 2010, 7:00 PM EDT
The Mariners clearly need to make more changes this winter, and adding power to their punchless lineup is going to have to be priority No. 1.
But power is expensive and the Mariners already have about $78 million* tied up on a 2011 team without a No. 2 starter, a third baseman, a designated hitter or a setup man.
*I’m putting down David Aardsma, Jason Vargas and Brandon League for $8 million in arbitration.
So, the time is almost here for the Ichiro Suzuki speculation to start up again. The flounding Mariners resisted the idea of trading Ichiro back in 2007, signing him to a five-year, $90 million extension instead.
The contract will have two years and $34 million left on it at season’s end. Ichiro has a partial no-trade clause, allowing him to block deals to 10 teams.
I tend to doubt that the Mariners would move him. The team doesn’t lack funds, and Ichiro’s contract has never prevented the club from adding talent.
Still, it’s an interesting question. Would anyone want a 37-year-old leadoff man who seems to have lost a step defensively and hasn’t been quite the same offensively this year?
Ichiro is currently hitting .311/.362/.388, which is practically the same line he put up in his worst season to date, when he hit .311/.361/.386 in 2008.
At age 35, Ichiro was able to rebound in 2009, posting his second highest OPS as a major leaguer. He hit .352/.386/.465 for a team that overachieved last season.
But this year, Ichiro has again looked almost disinterested at times. Perhaps he’s worn down playing for a team that’s going to miss the postseason for a ninth year in a row. He’s still in the lineup everyday, but his always modest power production could hit a new low and, aside from last week’s sudden four-steal outburst in a loss to the Rangers, he’s done less running over the last seven weeks.
There can’t be many teams that could afford to add Ichiro at $17 million. Most would be stretched to pay a leadoff man half that. Given that he’s been worth $17 million just once in the last three years, it’d be crazy for a team to take on that entire salary and still give the Mariners the young talent they’d want in return for Ichiro.
But who might be willing to make the move? The assumption is the Yankees and Angels will make big runs at Carl Crawford this winter. The Nationals, Red Sox, Dodgers, Giants, Tigers and White Sox might also be involved. Ichiro could be a consolation prize for one of the teams.
I think the Dodgers would be the perfect fit. With Manny Ramirez coming off the books, they have about $70 million in obligations for 2011, less if they chose to trade or non-tender Russell Martin. They could definitely use a new player with a built-in fanbase to replace Ramirez, and no one available will fit the bill like Ichiro.
Of course, the unstable ownership may doom that. Plus, it’s unclear whether Ichiro would want to play in the National League or in L.A.
Unless Ichiro makes it clear that he’d like to move on, odds are that he’ll stay in Seattle and finish out his contract as a Mariner. Whether he’ll do so for a winning team is still a long way from being determined.
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