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.

Jose Canseco to join NBC Sports California as an A’s analyst

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Hey, I have a new coworker: Jose Canseco has been hired by NBC Sports California as an Athletics pregame analyst.

OK, maybe he’s not technically a coworker, as the folks at NBC Sports California — formerly CSN Bay Area — and I do not hang out at the water cooler, have potlucks in the conference room or exchange secret Santa gifts at Christmas time, but dang it, I’m gonna TELL people I work with Jose Canseco. The only downside will be people assuming that, because he and I are on the same team, my performance is something less than authentic. Or, perhaps, Canseco may write another book and tell all of my secrets.

Anyway, Canseco will be part of NBC Sports California’s A’s Pregame Live and A’s Postgame Live shows. Live TV can be hard. I’ve done a bit of it, and there is certainly more to that gig than meets the eye. You can’t always prepare for what happens on the fly. I’m sure Canseco will do well, however, as he’s great with coming up with the best stuff off the top of his head.

2017 Preview: Cleveland Indians

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2017 season. Next up: The Cleveland Indians.

The Cleveland Indians almost won the World Series without their best hitter for the whole season and two of their starting pitchers for the playoffs. This year that hitter — Michael Brantley — is back and the starters — Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar — are healthy. Oh, and they added arguably the best free agent bat available in Edwin Encarnacion.

Baseball teams love to downplay their expectations, but given where the Indians are at the moment, anything less than another American League Pennant will have to feel like a disappointment, right? Fortunately for the Indians, they stand as the favorites to do just that.

They didn’t lose much in the offseason. Yes, World Series hero Rajai Davis is gone, but the Indians outfield will be fine if Brantley remains healthy. Mike Napoli‘s loss will be felt but it will be made up for with Encarnacion’s bat and probably then some. Coco Crisp left too, but he was not a key part of the equation.

The biggest losses are guys from last year who will start the year on the disabled list, most notably Jason Kipnis and Lonnie Chisenhall. Kipnis is just starting to work out following time off to rest his sore shoulder. Chisenhall ran into a wall the other day and is being evaluated. There is no sense that either will miss extended time, however.

Otherwise, the lineup should score a lot of runs, with on-base machines Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor setting the table for Encarnacion, Brantley and Carlos Santana, who is entering his walk year. The Indians trailed only the Red Sox in runs scored in the American League last year and they should score a lot of runs this year as well.

The strength of the club, however, remains its pitching. Corey Kluber looked like his old Cy Young self last year, particularly in the playoffs. Danny Salazar built on his excellent 2015 season in the first half before falling prey to injury. Carlos Carrasco posted an ERA+ of 141 before breaking his hand and Josh Tomlin and Trevor Bauer both stood out for fourth and fifth starters.

The bullpen is excellent too, as relief ace Andrew Miller is joined by Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw and newcomer Boone Logan make up one of the relief corps in baseball.

Pitcher health is probably the biggest uncertainty for any contender, but the Indians have the best pitching in the AL if everyone stays healthy. And maybe even if one or two guys don’t.

It’s hard to find much fault with the 2017 Cleveland Indians. They are the class of their division and, while the slog of the regular season turns a lot of surefire contenders into hash before it’s all said and done, there is no reason to look at the Indians right now and think of them as anything other than the best team in the American League.

Prediction: First place, American League Central.