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Ichiro ends his season, takes job with Mariners front office

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Big news out of Seattle: the Hall of Fame baseball career of Ichiro Suzuki is coming to an end. The Mariners just announced that Ichiro is “transitioning to the role of Special Assistant to the Chairman, effective today.” The club says “Ichiro’s new role will preclude him from returning to the active roster in 2018.” It is, for all intents and purposes, his retirement from baseball.

Or, at least his almost retirement. Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic spoke with Ichiro’s agent this afternoon, and his agent at least hinted that Ichiro could be activated for the Mariners’ opening series in 2019, which will take place in Japan. It’d be a nice grace note for the end of his career, I suppose, but we’ll have to wait and see.

Assuming no early 2019 gimmickry, this is about the most graceful way Ichiro and the team could’ve handled matters, because it’s clear that he is no longer capable of playing up to his lofty standards. Or, for that matter, the standards of a major leaguer. This year he’s 9-for-44 with no extra base hits and only three walks. This comes on the heels of a season in which he hit .255/.318/.332 for the Marlins. His reputation entitled him to more looks than a lot of players may have received, but at 44 it’s pretty clear the tank was empty. Far better for him to ascend to a front office role than to simply be released or for his presence on the roster despite a lack of production to turn into a point of controversy. The Mariners learned that the hard way with how Ken Griffey Jr.’s career came to a close and seemed determined not to repeat the same mistake.

Assuming, safely, that Ichiro does not make a go at playing in 2019, he ends his big league career with a line of .311/.355/.402, with 3,089 hits and 509 stolen bases. He was the MVP and Rookie of the Year in 2001, took home 10 Gold Gloves and three Silver Slugger Awards and made the All-Star team ten times. He set the all-time record for hits in a season in 2004 with 262 safeties. He topped 200 hits ten times and led the league in hits seven times, including four years running between 2006 and 2010.

That was just part of it, obviously, as Ichiro was a megastar in Japan before coming to the United States, leading the Orix Blue Wave for nine seasons. His 1,278 hits there, combined with his 3,089 here, give him a career total of 4,367, which are more than any man to ever play the game. Pete Rose may still be the MLB hit king, but Ichiro is certainly the global hit king.

He’ll be called to Cooperstown in his first year of eligibility. Until then he’ll stay in Seattle and will no doubt soon have a day set aside to celebrate his incomparable career.

Tony Clark thinks front offices have too much of an impact on baseball

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Barry Svrluga of the Washington Post spoke to MLBPA executive director Tony Clark, who said he feels that front offices have too much of an impact on the game of baseball. Clark said, “You hear players saying it’s even hard to recognize how the game is being played. If those on the field see it and experience it, then those who are watching it will notice, too. It’s not to suggest I don’t like home runs or strikeouts or walks. I like all those things. But I also like more of the strategy and the dynamics that have always determined the outcomes in our games.”

Clark continued, “The decisions that are being made are changing the game. When you’re in a climate where the decisions about how the game is being played are being made less by the players who are playing and the coaches and managers who are coaching and managing it, we find ourselves in a climate that seems to be focused in on what everybody’s calling the three true outcomes: the home run, the strikeout and the walk. I would argue that there are two true outcomes: whether you win or you lose. … I’m not saying data is a bad thing. I’m saying it’s morphed our game and its focus quite a bit.”

Clark also discussed tanking, saying, “This isn’t a player problem. It’s reflective, I believe, of very deliberate business decisions. Players as a whole compete on every pitch and every at-bat. Our industry is predicated on competition from the top down. … What it appears that we are seeing in that regard is teams withdrawing from that competition for seasons at a time. It becomes challenging when it’s more than a couple of teams that are going that route, whereby you have a considerable chasm between those that are competing at one level and those that are competing at another.”

The current collective bargaining agreement expires on December 1, 2021, so the union and the owners will have three more years of talking about these issues before they are concretely addressed. The tanking issue seems like it will almost certainly be addressed.

Clark’s concern over the impact of front offices may not be misplaced, but it’s difficult to envision any kind of rule making a difference. Limit what data teams can access? Centralize the data? The “scienceification” of baseball, if you will, was an inevitability, an evolution. In order to go in a different direction, the game will need to evolve again. Trying to tamp down data usage in baseball is akin to playing whack-a-mole with various ways with which teams will find advantages over other teams.

Major League Baseball could try to cut into the ever-increasing three true outcomes rate by changing certain things about the game without touching the data. Back in 1969, the pitcher’s mound was lowered to encourage more offense. In a similar vein, to encourage more doubles and triples and fewer home runs, stadiums could be adjusted to have the fences back to a certain distance (e.g. at least 340 feet down the lines, 410 in center). The pitcher’s mound could be moved back a few inches, lessening the impact of higher velocity, which has been a big factor in the ever-increasing strikeout rate. There are surely other ideas that smart people can come up with to bring the game towards a more active, enjoyable experience. We still have three years to go so we’ll certainly be seeing some interesting suggestions.