Monday, October 3, 2011

Ichiro Opting Out

"After lots of very deep thought and deliberation, I have decided to return home to resume my career in Japan.  I have had a wonderful experience competing at the major league level. I will always be indebted to the Mariners organization for giving me the opportunity to follow my dream.This was a very difficult decision, both professionally and personally. I feel now is the time to go home, while I still can perform at a very high level."

Remember those words? I do.

That's Kenji Johjima, right after he decided to walk away from roughly $16 million dollars included in the last two years of a (miserable) 3-year, $24 million dollar contract he signed.

It was a stunner, really. Johjima wasn't a very good hitter, and by most accounts, not a very good backstop either. His leaving freed up quite a bit of cash and it left most fans dancing in the virtual streets.

With this example in mind, how big of a surprise would it be if Ichiro walked away from his last season in order to go back to Japan? While I'd actually be rather shocked, I could certainly see a world in which it happens.

Ichiro had the worst season in his professional career in 2011, and whatever your opinion of him might be, you know he's arrogant enough to not like being embarrassed. He's lost a step, and he knows it.

He also knows that this Mariner team isn't likely to be very good in 2012, or at least not with their current payroll. Is he really all that excited about coming back to a mediocre team only to face constant criticism that he's not the player he once was? Maybe. Maybe not.

He's not going to get to 3,000 hits unless he plays four more years, and I'm not sure there's a team that will give him a three year contract headed into 2013 so he can slap-hit his way to a .260 average as a 40 year old. So what is there to play for? Ichiro must know that 2012 is his last year here, and he must know that his $18 million dollars is almost exactly what the team would need to sign a productive bat on offense.

Would he want to go back to Japan and play out his days adored by fans instead of playing out an albatross contract with a bad team and a media frequently using has-been terminology? I could see it.

If he did it, the M's brass would suddenly be legitimate players for some big name bats.


Anonymous said...

I find it sad,Ichiro has played for us for years and after one bad season we start trash talking him. Does no one remember that his home country is Japan and that they just had a Big earth quake. I would be off my game too. I believe he will finish his last year with us. And shame on anyone who would say this man has not done his job well and often without help from his team.

Michael said...

Anon -

I'm an Ichiro fan, believe me. I was also a Griffey fan - and it pained me to watch the guy deteriorate as a player. It happens to the best of them -- and it's not a knock on Ichiro or what he's meant to this organization.

But Ichiro was about league-average last year, and making $18 million dollars. That's almost 20% of payroll. Good teams don't pay 20% of their payroll for league average production.

The post is more just kind of a what-if. I just don't know what Ichiro has left to prove in Seattle, and given that he's knocking on the age of 40, I could certainly see him heading back to Japan. Certainly after 2012.

I'm sure he's going to finish his last year with us too - and I hope he has a fantastic year and goes out on a high.

Anonymous said...

Fans you need to stop trash talking The Mariners and support them. Yes I too miss playoff Baseball in Seattle. Ichiro has done a lot for this team, everybody has a bad year, he is loyal and has stayed with Seattle when a lot of other players have left for no real good reason at all. We will get there again and our Baseball team needs our support. Not People trying to drag them down.

Michael said...

I don't see any trash talking the Mariners here, so I don't get what you're saying. Ichiro's loyalty has nothing to do with... well... anything. People might want to give Ichiro a big cuddly hug, but just as we know we need better production out of our CF, our C, our LF, etc. -- we need better production out of RF too.

Anonymous said...

Hard to feel bad for anyone making 18m/year to play sports. People get older and they get paid. On to the next.

cherylbrooks99 said...

I do not believe that given Ichiro's Japanese upbringing that he would not finish out his career with the Mariner's. Sure this is the first year we have seen a less than stellar performance from Ichiro but he still hits more consistently than most other players in the league. Ichiro, having grown up in Japan has probably had a lot on his mind since the Japan earthquake and ensuing, devastating, tsunami. Let's not forget that the Japanese people are honorable and Ichiro with most likely do the right and responsible thing. Stay with the Mariners until he retires. Cheryl

Michael said...

Cheryl - I just honestly can't understand your rationale. Johjima opted out and he was Japanese. Hideki Irabu refused to play for anyone but the Yankees and then had verbal wars with his owner who ultimately called him a fat toad. The Japanese culture is rich with tradition, yes - but the idea that Ichiro would possibly consider opting out of his contract is mostly to relieve the Mariners from having to pay him eighteen million dollars for a team that will struggle to play .500 ball.

And the national tragedy thing doesn't pass muster with me either. In 1989, scores died in a San Francisco earthquake and Dave Henderson, Carney Lansford, Tony Phillips and Jose Canseco managed to hit home runs in the next game played. After 9/11, baseball went on and maybe you want to blame the Mariners collapse on that, but it certainly didn't affect the Diamondbacks. In 1942, World War II was going on but that didn't stop Ted Williams from hitting .356 and hitting 36 home runs and driving in 137 runs.

The tsunami was tragic, but I don't think there's a shred of truth linking it with Ichiro's performance.

Anonymous said...

This man did good give him props his a grown ma he knows what he is doing same thing with Griffey jr. and A rod does guys have all my respect specially Griffey jri I think 1 of the best players of all time...

Rachael Buchanan said...

You can't seriously blame the Mariner's woes on Ichiro. He plays one position and had a bit of a hitting slump. If Ichiro IS carrying the entire team, they've got more problems than just having a rotten coach with Wedge.

Michael said...

Rachel - I don't see anywhere that I'm blaming the Mariners struggles on Ichiro.

A. The post was just a what-if. Kind of like what if they got new ownership, or moved to the NL, or if they abandoned the infield fly rule.

B. I've said this many times, but you can't expect to be competitive when you wrap up 20% of your payroll in one player, let alone a league-average player. That's any team in baseball, not just the Mariners. So yeah, that has to do with Ichiro, but there's no blaming him for 2011 in the post.

C. Wedge had nothing to do with their 2011 struggles. You could put Bobo the Monkey or my 4 year old son in charge and as long as you lack talent, you won't win. Period.

TriGuyinWW said...

After several years playing with a mediocre baseball club, it would begin to wear on me too. It's not arrogance that Ichiro suffers from, but the classic Asian fear of shame. If I read between the lines carefully, he wants to go back to Japan to save himself the humiliation of having played for the American League All Star teams for years, but who has never been to a world series. It's the Mariners front office who need to get their act together and deal like baseball matters in Seattle. I wish Ichiro all the best as he ponders his next move. He's been exciting to watch as he's pumped up his deflated team year after year. Age MAY be a factor, by my stronger hunch is that he wants to finish with as little "shame" as possible. He's made his U.S. money. He's played extremely well. Maybe it IS time for Japan to welcome home a true international sports hero.

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Anonymous said...

I remember my first Seattle Mariners game; I was in 1st grade, and Ichiro hit a home run into center filed right in front of me. Unfortunately, it was about 8 rows down from me. I am 12th grade now. That is one of my most cherished memories in life right now.

Ichiro was a great player, is a grat player, and will always be a great player. If there is a hall of fame for teams, because I know you can retire numbers, he will definitely be in it. He might make it to the MLB hall of fame, he might not. But he will always be in the Mariners fans hall of fame.

WE LOVE YOU ICHIRO!!! Give us one more good year, and break some records!!!