Would anyone want Ichiro?


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.

Shohei Ohtani is having a brutal spring training

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Spring training is tough for players under the best of circumstances. Even in an age when players work out all year, getting back into the swing of baseball-at-full-speed is tough. Many players spend the bulk of February and March knocking off the rust and getting their timing back. Because of this — and because the games have no real stakes — it is not wise to take spring training statistics super seriously. Especially if the player in question is assured of a spot on the roster and is trying to avoid injury before the regular season arrives.

Spring training for Shohei Ohtani is doubly difficult. Not only does he have to knock the rust off from the offseason, but he (a) has to get used to a new country and language; (b) has to get to know all new teammates, coaches and, really, an entirely new baseball culture; and (c) do all of that while dealing with a media crush that hasn’t been seen in baseball since Ichiro first arrived 17 years ago. In short, Ohtani is under massive pressure and has to make massive adjustments in a short time.

With that said, neither the Angels nor Ohtani can be all that pleased with how his spring training has gone. In two actual major league exhibition games he’s allowed eight runs in two and two-thirds innings. Seven of those came on Friday when he was shelled by the Rockies in an inning and a third. If you include B-games against minor leaguers, he has allowed 17 runs on 18 hits, four of which were homers, in four games. As a hitter he’s 2-for-20.

As Jeff Fletcher of the OC Register notes, Ohtani’s peripherals are not bad, as he has struck out a lot of guys and walked very few and the average on balls in play against him has been brutal, which is not super sustainable. Bad luck and some fat pitches at a time of the year when luck doesn’t really matter and the pitches, because of the rust, are likely to be fatter than normal.

As Fletcher also notes, Nolan Arenado, who faced Ohtani on Friday, said that his stuff looked good and that he’s going to be a good big league pitcher. Ohtani and Angels officials are all striking the right notes about bad luck and adjustments, saying that they’re not worried.

I imagine they’d be worrying even less if things had gone well this spring. Unless of course this is just a professional wrestling-style work aimed at getting more of us to watch his regular season debut, in which he’ll reveal that he was sandbaggin’ all along.