Would anyone want Ichiro?

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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.

Don Mattingly thinks pace of play can be improved by changing views on strikeouts

Miami Marlins manager Don Mattingly sits in the dugout prior to a baseball game against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Los Angeles, Monday, April 25, 2016. (AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo)
AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo
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Marlins manager Don Mattingly has one potential solution to the pace of play issue: change the way people value strikeouts, the Associated Press reports.

Strikeouts have been rising steadily since 2005. Then, a typical game averaged 6.30 strikeouts. In 2016, there were 8.03 strikeouts per game. There are many explanations for this phenomenon. For one, teams are searching specifically for young pitchers who can throw hard — like triple-digits hard. They figure they can teach them the other pertinent skills in the minors. Second, Sabermetrics has shown that a strikeout is only marginally worse than an out made on a ball put in play. Sometimes, the strikeout is preferable, especially if there’s a runner on first base with less than two outs and a weak hitter at the plate. Sabermetrics has also shown home runs to be the best and most efficient way to contribute on offense. Furthermore, younger players tend to focus more on power in order to get noticed by scouts. Unless it’s paired with other elite skills, a scout isn’t going to remember a player who hit the ball into the hole on the right side, but he will remember the kid who blasted a 450-foot homer.

Here’s what Mattingly had to say:

Analytically, a few years back nobody cared about the strikeout, so it’s OK to strike out 150, 160, 170 times, and that guy’s still valued in a big way. Well, as soon as we start causing that to be a bad value — the strikeouts — guys will put the ball in play more. So once we say strikeouts are bad and it’s going to cost you money the more you strike out, then the strikeouts will go away. Guys will start making adjustments and putting the ball in play more.

[…]

If our game values [say that] strikeouts don’t matter, they are going to keep striking out, hitting homers, trying to hit home runs and striking out.

Simply believing strikeouts are bad won’t magically change its value. However, creating social pressure regarding striking out can change it. Theoretically, anyway. Creating that social pressure is easier said than done.

There is a dichotomy here as well. Home runs are exciting. Strikeouts and walks are not. Often, though, the three go hand-in-hand-in-hand. A player actively trying to cut down on his strikeouts by putting the ball in play will also likely cut down on his strikeout and walk rates. There doesn’t seem to be an elegant solution here. Wishing for fewer strikeouts, walks, and homers doesn’t really seem to give way to a more exciting game.

Sean Doolittle: “Refugees aren’t stealing a slice of the pie from Americans.”

ANAHEIM, CA - JUNE 25:  Sean Doolittle #62 of the Oakland Athletics pitches during the ninth inning of a baseball game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on June 25, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images
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In the past, we’ve commented on Athletics reliever Sean Doolittle and his girlfriend Eireann Dolan’s community service. In 2015, the pair hosted Syrian refugee families for Thanksgiving and their other charitable efforts have included LGBTQ outreach and help for veterans.

Athletes and their significant others have typically avoided stepping into political waters, but Doolittle and Dolan have shown that it’s clearly no concern to them. In the time since, the Syrian refugee issue has become even more of a hot-button issue and Doolittle recently discussed it with Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times.

I think America is the best country in the world because we’ve been able to attract the best and brightest people from all over the world. We have the smartest doctors and scientists, the most creative and innovative thinkers. A travel ban like this puts that in serious jeopardy.

I’ve always thought that all boats rise with the tide. Refugees aren’t stealing a slice of the pie from Americans. But if we include them, we can make the pie that much bigger, thus ensuring more opportunities for everyone.

Doolittle, of course, is referring to Executive Order 13769 signed by President Trump which sought to limit incoming travel to the United States from seven countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. A temporary restraining order on the executive order was placed on February 3, a result of State of Washington v. Trump.

Doolittle spoke more about the plight refugees face:

These are people fleeing civil wars, violence and oppression that we can’t even begin to relate to. I think people think refugees just kind of decide to come over. They might not realize it takes 18-24 months while they wait in a refugee camp. They go through more than 20 background checks and meetings with immigration officers. They are being vetted.

They come here, and they want to contribute to society. They’re so grateful to be out of a war zone or whatever they were running from in their country that they get jobs, their kids go to our schools, they’re paying taxes, and in a lot of cases, they join our military.

Around this time last year, Craig wrote about Doolittle and Dolan not sticking to baseball. They’re still not, nor should they be. Hopefully, the duo’s outspokenness inspires other players and their loved ones to speak up for what’s right.

[Hat tip: Deadspin’s Hannah Keyser]