Ichiro opens up, says he ‘felt desperate’ in worst season

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Ichiro Suzuki, 38, had the worst season of his MLB career in 2011, notching career lows in average (.272), hits (184), on-base (.310) and slugging (.335) as his Seattle Mariners struggled to a 67-95 record and second straight last-place finish in the AL West.

Ichiro talked about his disappointing year with the Nikkan Sports newspaper, and Reuters picked up the story.

As is usually the case with Ichiro, the story out of Japan is far more illuminating than just about anything that ever appears in the US press. Just a matter of being comfortable in your environment, I suppose.

Among the highlights in the story:

  • Ichiro didn’t feel right for much of the season, even in April while racking up an AL-best 39 hits. But he couldn’t figure out what was wrong, and the uncertainty kind of drove him nuts. “I felt desperate last season. That doesn’t happen to me very often. Mental stress is a lot worse than physical stress.”
  • He doesn’t take too kindly to those that suggest his drop-off is simply a natural part of the aging process. “Sometimes I feel I’m getting older, or more sensitive to what they say on TV,” he said. Can you hear the crankiness in his voice? He is getting older! Next thing you know he’ll be telling us all to get off his lawn. Ichiro did follow up the comment with this gem, however:

“Yes my skin gets dry but it’s a lame conclusion to blame everything on age. People are quick to point to age. Those kinds of people don’t interest me. But if you’re going to call yourself a professional, you need to put up results.”

  • Another nugget glossed over in the Reuters story is this: Ichiro has been linked to the general manager’s job at his former Japanese club Orix.

Very interesting. Ichiro’s contract is up after the 2012 season, so I suppose he could be looking for front office gigs back in Japan. But the scuttlebutt is that he’ll be looking for an extension from the Mariners as he chases the 3,000-hit milestone. With 2,428 career MLB hits, he would need to average 190 over the next three seasons to get to 3,000. Unless Ichiro continues to decline, an idea that surely makes him bristle, I’d bet on something getting done, possibly before the end of the 2012 season.

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Astros talking to Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole about extensions

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It’s extension season and Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reports that the Astros — who already agreed to an extension with Alex Bregman — are discussing contract extensions with Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole.

Funny thing about Verlander, by the way: when he got his current $180 million deal, most people fell into the “oh, there’s an overpay!” column. What’s more, this past winter, when everyone was talking about how bad it is to give guys big long term deals, Verlander’s name was notably absent in the conversation despite the fact that his deal has turned out to be quite good. I suppose that says something about how good the anti-long-term deal folks are at cherrypicking.

That being said, Rosenthal says “it would be an upset” if either Verlander or Cole signed extensions. I can see that. Verlander is still locked up, thanks to a team option that will almost certainly be exercised, through 2020, and Cole is a Scott Boras client and Boras clients tend to hit the market rather than sign extensions. Perhaps their former teammate, Dallas Keuchel‘s, terrible experience on the free agent market this winter will alter that calculus. Hard to say.