Mariners: It’s Time For Ichiro to GO.

English: Ichiro Suzuki on June 10, 2009.

Seattle Mariner iconic right-fielder and lead-off hitter Ichiro Suzuki, who is more commonly known only by his first name much like Madonna and Cher, has given Northwest baseball fans eleven years of exciting baseball. He’s won awards, broke records, and solidified a spot for himself in the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame following his retirement. But his play this and last season show that he’s done. He’s fallen and given his age of 38 it’s safe to say he won’t get up.

It’s early June and the Mariners are seven games below .500. Not all that bad given they’ve had to endure the worst schedule in MLB, playing more road games than any other team…including a trip to Japan. Ichiro started the year as the team’s number 3 hitter; a spot usually reserved for the teams best batsman. At the start of the year it seemed like a worthy experiment. But after two months Ichiro’s diminished batting average and total lack of power necessitated his move last week back to his familiar lead-off position in the batting order.

The problem is Ichiro is not the familiar player who slapped singles and occasionally doubles and triples all around the ballpark, and beat out infield hits, and stole bases on a regular basis. Last year’s drop in average to .271 was dramatic for a lifetime .300+ hitter. And wishful fans AND Mariner management hoped it was a one season anomaly created largely by the inept hitting around the great Japanese ball player. Despite two hits in last night’s win over the LA Angels Ichiro’s .259 average and .290 on-base percentage show that it wasn’t an anomaly, but a trend. Hitting .259 with an OBP of only .290 would make Ichiro one of the worst lead-off hitters in baseball. Such averages are more deserving of a spot 7th, 8th or 9th in the line-up.

Ichiro is making $18-million dollars this year. But his contract is up at the end of the season. Knowing the Mariner’s history they’ll want to re-sign him and let him retire having only played for Seattle in his MLB career. I’d be all for it if not for the team’s reluctance to do anything that might upset their ego-maniacal star. And if Manager Eric Wedge can’t bring himself to put the team first and lower Ichiro’s position in the batting order NOW when several acceptable alternatives are available for the team’s lead-off spot, what makes you think he will do the right thing next year. Do you really want another Ken Griffey Jr. situation?

Ken Griffey, Jr.

Ken Griffey, Jr.

Junior was brought back to the team in 2009 to end his career with the city and team that launched his Hall of Fame career. In spite of hitting a paltry .214 with little power, the nostalgia loving Mariner management team brought him back for the 2010 season. It was a disaster. Griffey was old. His interest level in playing was clearly diminished. He couldn’t bring his average above the proverbial Mendoza Line (.200) and he had even less power than in 2009. After being benched in mid-May Griffey left the team in a huff, announcing his retirement in a letter to management and leaving town without another word to anybody. The team suffered with and without him and proceeded through one of the worst seasons in team history, losing over 100 games.

The same ugly fate awaits Ichiro if Mariner management can’t do the right thing. He must be shown respect. And he must be shown the door. If they can get anything for him (and by anything I mean a bag of baseballs would suffice, given his age, his stats, and his contract) they should trade him to a contender by the July 31 trade deadline so Ichiro has a chance to end his career with a winner. Or, they should let him play out this season honorably. Then profusely thank him for his service and say goodbye. Then plan on a new right-fielder in 2013. Then, and only then can this young and improving Mariner’s team have a chance at contention.

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