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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.

Noah Syndergaard: ‘I feel like I’m going to bet (on) myself in free agency’

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Yankees starter Luis Severino and Phillies starter Aaron Nola both signed contract extensions within the last week. Severino agreed to a four-year, $40 million contract with a 2023 club option. Nola inked a four-year, $45 million deal with a 2023 club option.

While the deals both represented significant raises and longer-term financial security for the right-handed duo, some feel like the players are selling themselves short. It has become a more common practice for players to agree to these types of deals in part due to how stagnant free agency has become. Get the money while you can.

Mets starter Noah Syndergaard is in a similar situation as Severino and Nola were. He and the Mets avoided arbitration last month, agreeing on a $6 million salary for the 2019 season. He has two more years of arbitration eligibility left. A contract extension with the Mets would presumably cover both of those years plus two or three years of what would be free agent years. As Tim Britton of The Athletic reports, however, Syndergaard plans to test free agency when the time comes.

Syndergaard said, “I trust my ability and the talent that I have. So I feel like I’m going to bet (on) myself in free agency and not do what they did. But if it’s fair for both sides and they approach me on it, then maybe we can talk.” He clarified that he would be open to a conversation about an extension, but the Mets thus far haven’t approached him about it. In his words, “There’s been no traction.”

Syndergaard, 26, has been one of baseball’s better starters since debuting in 2015. He owns a career 2.93 ERA with 573 strikeouts and 116 walks in 518 1/3 innings. Among pitchers to have logged at least 400 innings since 2015 and post a lower ERA are Clayton Kershaw (2.22), Jacob deGrom (2.66) and Max Scherzer (2.71). Syndergaard made only seven starts in 2017 yet still ranks seventh among pitchers in total strikeouts since 2015.

If Sydergaard doesn’t end up signing an extension, he will be entering free agency after the 2021 season. The collective bargaining agreement expires in December 2021 and a new one will likely be agreed upon around that time. Syndergaard will hopefully have better prospects entering free agency then than players do now.