To kick off week three of Spring Training, the Seattle Mariners announced the signing of Ichiro Suzuki to a one-year deal, pending a physical, returning the legendary outfielder to the MLB team he originally joined in 2001 and played for eleven and a half seasons. While bringing the forty-four-year-old Ichiro “home” to Seattle is both charming and nostalgic, the move is more practically in response to early spring injuries and a perceived lack of depth in the outfield.
Projected left fielder, Ben Gamel, went down with an oblique injury and is expected to miss four to six weeks, casting doubt on who would play LF on opening day. Gamel’s injury, paired with a hand injury to right fielder, Mitch Haniger, and the continuing recovery from offseason shoulder surgery by Guillermo Heredia, who served as the team’s fourth outfielder last season, opened the way for a reunion with Ichiro.
In his 11 ½ seasons with the Mariners, Ichiro hit .322/.366/.418, while stealing 438 bases, scoring 1,176 runs, and compiling 2,533 of his 3,080 hits.
Ichiro declined somewhat with the New York Yankees, hitting .281/.314/.364 in a little over two seasons with 1,106 AB. The decline continued in Miami with the Marlins as Ichiro saw little playing time in the shadows of the likes of Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, and Marcell Ozuna. In three seasons with the fish, Ichiro hit .256/.315/.325 and managed to join the 3,000-hit club in just 921 AB.
With the late signing, only ZiPS has updated projections for Ichiro to reflect a semi-regular gig. That projection system has the diminutive outfielder participating in 127 games, getting roughly 250 PA, and contributing a .264/.323/.344 slash line for a wRC+ of 79 and a -0.1 WAR.
Hall of Fame Career
In his first season in the majors, Ichiro electrified audiences with his speed and unconventional approach at the plate. In the era of steroids and in the wake of historic single season home run totals, Ichiro was a throwback to another era. In 2001, Ichiro hit .350/.381/.457 with 56 SB, 127 R, and a league leading 242 hits to win both Rookie of the Year and MVP. Remarkably, Ichiro would collect over 200 hits in each of his first ten seasons in the big leagues. He was also a member of the historic 2001 Mariners team that won 116 regular season games, but, alas, failed to reach the world series.
By rejoining the Mariners, Ichiro has a legitimate chance to move up as many as six spots on the all-time hit list. To be fair, by combining statistics from the Nippon league and MLB, Ichiro is already the hit king with 4,358, but “only” 3,080 come in MLB. Ichiro needs 31 hits to pass Dave Winfield, 36 to pass Alex Rodriguez, 62 to pass Tony Gwynn, 64 to pass Robin Yount, 73 to pass Paul Warner, and 78 to pass George Brett. With ZiPS projecting just 60 hits, catching Cal Ripkin, Jr. at 3,184 seems far-fetched but the others do seem to be in sight.
Ichiro Suzuki is a first ballot Hall of Famer, but the hall will have to late at least another five years, as the Emerald City welcomes him back in 2018 to help the Mariners sail through the early waves of injuries in hopes of breaking that long playoff drought. And some milestones should fall along the way.