Geoff Baker covers the Mariners for The Seattle Times. He provides daily coverage of the team throughout spring training, and during the season.
June 26, 2008 9:13 AM
Posted by Geoff Baker
Hello eveyone, glad to be back. A big thanks to Larry Stone for filling in while I finally had a bit of a break during a Mariners road trip. This team logs more miles than any other in baseball and it can catch up to you quick if you aren't careful. So, I've been gone since covering the John McLaren firing press conference and see that new manager Jim Riggleman has managed to squeeze a week of .500 ball out of this bunch. Pat on the back to Riggleman for that, considering this clubhouse is not the easiest to manage. Those of you still insisting the clubhouse is not the problem, well, there's not much I can say. When the insiders are saying it, when I've been trying to tell you that it is for the past two months, and when the team underperforms like it has, I suppose you can keep insisiting you have a better vantage point from your living room, but, well, you don't. Sorry. Not going to agree just to keep the blog calm.
Now, if the individual players on this team were performing close to their career norms, or their pre-season, computer projections, I'd be a lot more inclined to agree with those of you insisting this is a "talent" thing above all else. It's not. At the very least, this should be a team hovering around .500. It's instead on pace to lose 100 games. This is not a "talent" issue. This is a team where mediocrity has become ingrained. All the talent in the world will not change that. It's a team where major changes will likely be needed and for me, there is no better place to start than with the center fielder. This article that some of you linked to yesterday got me thinking about this question.
Yes, I know Richie Sexson and Jose Vidro have to go. I am assuming they will shortly.
Yes, I am well aware of all the good Ichiro has done for this organization. I've seen him, night after night, going through his pre-game stretching routine in the clubhouse while lesser players are guffawing on the sofa as they watch "The Wedding Crashers" for the 15th time.
But hey, if you want to get some players back, maybe save a bit of that $90 million committed to Ichiro last year, he's the guy to deal. His numbers are well below career norms, but they are still acceptable and pretty good average-wise. His defense remains above average. And hopefully, that will be enough to snag a trade partner. Because with the M's, he's just about outlived his usefulness.
First off, M's fans have to stop kidding themselves. This team is not going to contend in 2009. It is going to be broken up. Once you do that, Ichiro becomes replaceable. Do you really want to be on the hook for the bulk of $90 million to a mid-30s singles hitter who's no longer a sure thing to his .300 most months of every season?
I thought the best time to trade Ichiro was last year. The team took a chance, hoping it was going to contend moving forward. The chance didn't work out. I won't crucify them for their hope. But this is getting serious. As good as Ichiro is, it doesn't justify a non-contending team keeping him around strictly for marketing purposes.
Ichiro is not what Jason Giambi was to the Oakland A's seven years ago. He's not a guy who's going to carry his team on his back, rally the troops around him. He's a dedicated professional. But for me, not the kind of guy you spend your franchise money on. Not now. Maybe in 2001. Or in 2002. But today, in 2008, we've seen the best of what Ichiro has to offer. And it is not enough for this team.
You want a guy who can hit and bring some leadership intangibles to the table? For a reasonable price? The M's already have one in Raul Ibanez. He's not going to carry this team on his back either, but he can do some good -- on and off the field -- at a more manageable price than Ichiro can. As a DH next season. Or even a first baseman. Preferably as a DH.
As for Ichiro, if there's a team out there already loading up for a shot at a title, with some strong personalities on the verge of career years, Ichiro will be a fantastic supporting cast member. What he won't be, going forward, is a franchise player you build that team around. Not as a singles hitter whose numbers -- overall and with runners in scoring position -- have declined.
And not as a right fielder. As a center fielder, I can buy the value argument a bit more. In right field? No way.
The M's moved Ichiro to center at the end of 2006 because they knew it would benefit the team to have their singles hitter in a defensive position where his non-hitting value would be maximized. Where a power hitter could be inserted in right field.
Now, it's back to square one. And that's not good enough. Not for a team that could be about to embark on a rebuild. I get the feeling the M's are looking at this the same way I am. Here's why.
1. They were specifically asked whether "all players" could possibly be traded -- even Ichiro -- and did not hesitate to answer yes.
2. Moving Ichiro to right field makes little sense. Either now, or in the future. Freeing up a space for Ken Griffey Jr. to come in -- as a left fielder, while Wladimir Balentien or Jeremy Reed plays center -- would be as dumb a move as this team has made in years. This team needs to get better. Not stay the course. Bringing in Coco Crisp to play center, in a trade with Boston, would be more palatable. But the outfield power would be severely lacking.
Why would the team move Ichiro to right field then? To get his bat going, possibly to the point where he can attract more trade interest. Remember, he comes with a high cost. Getting signficant trade returns will not be a slam dunk.
3. This team will almost certainly trade Erik Bedard if it can. He was this team's big window to contention in 2008 and 2009. If you close that, there's no sense keeping Ichiro around for a playoff run in 2010 or beyond when he's already showing signs of declining.
4. John McLaren was Ichiro's biggest supporter. And McLaren had his biggest fan in Ichiro. The team just fired McLaren. It has moved beyond satisfying Ichiro's biggest wishes and is putting the team's future success ahead of individuals.
5. Frankly, this team doesn't have trade parts that are all that great. Sure, you can move Felix Hernandez and cut off your nose to spite your face. Ichiro is one guy who -- if you show some creativity -- could bring useful parts back without costing your team its future.
Hey, I've always been a big Ichiro fan. On a different team, keeping him around longer might make sense. But not now. Not on this team. I expect him to be shopped with serious intent.