If you haven’t heard the news, the Mariners said on Monday that Ben Gamel has a strained oblique and will be out four to six weeks, which means the projected starting left fielder will not be ready for Opening Day on March 29.
He’s now the third outfielder with an injury issue – Mitch Haniger has tendinitis in his right hand and might see his first Cactus League action later this week, and Guillermo Heredia has batted in the last two games but won’t play in the outfield for at least another week, according to 710 ESPN Seattle’s Shannon Drayer. The only healthy outfielder is Dee Gordon, making what has so far been a seamless transition from second base to center field.
So the Mariners need outfield help from their own system or somewhere else, which has them reportedly in agreement on a one-year deal with Ichiro as a stop-gap solution. The Mariners’ former Gold Glove and All-Star right fielder is a free agent who hit .255 for the Marlins last year. He’s a future Hall of Famer and one of the best players in Mariners’ history, but Ichiro is 44 now.
Mike Salk of Brock and Salk, who likes the thought of bringing Ichiro back, ran a Twitter poll asking Mariner fans how they felt about it. I was surprised with the results when I checked them out – 64 percent said: “Yes, that would be fun,” with 36 percent saying: “No Way!”
The Mariners currently have three injured outfielders (I know). Given their need for an extra OF, how would you feel about signing Ichiro to fill the void and be an extra OF/role player this year?
— Mike Salk, 710 ESPN (@TheMikeSalk) March 5, 2018
Put me in the No-Way camp, and just to be clear, make it the No-Flipping Way camp for how much I’m against the return of Ichiro.
I’d rather go the in-house route, even if that’s Cameron Perkins, who hit .182 in 42 games with the Phillies last year. Or throw Taylor Motter out there. I know he’s more of a utility infielder than reserve outfielder, but if Gordon can play center field and Nelson Cruz can play right field, how bad would it be with Motter? Or Andrew Romine, who’s in the utility battle with Motter – if limited, he’s got some outfield experience too.
Or maybe Braden Bishop would be ready to make the jump from Class AA to the major leagues on a part-time basis. According to MLB.com Mariners reporter Greg Johns, Ian Miller’s another option. Miller was the Mariners’ minor league hitter of the year, splitting time in 2017 between Arkansas and Tacoma.
If you want to fill the holes through free agency, why not take another look at Jon Jay, an outfielder the Mariners were interested in before Gordon was acquired from the Marlins. Jay, 32, averaged .296 with the Cubs last year. Other free-agent outfielders include Carlos Gonzalez, Melky Cabrera and Seth Smith, another former Mariner that I’d endorse ahead of Ichiro. Smith, as we were always told, gives you a professional at-bat that helps offset his defensive shortcomings. The 35-year-old Smith hit .258 for the Orioles last year.
But honestly, I don’t want to see Smith back here either. Go with someone younger, someone who might blossom into an everyday contributor as the starting left fielder, perhaps replacing the projected platoon of Gamel and Heredia. Don’t get me wrong, I like Gamel and Heredia, but if the guy coming in puts up better numbers in the short term, give him the full-time job.
If you want to go off on a crazy tangent along the lines of Ichiro’s return, I’d suggest Jose Bautista, who probably doesn’t have much left in the tank at the age of 37, seeing that he hit .203 last year. But he still smacked 23 homers for the Blue Jays, which means he doesn’t control the zone but at least we’d get to see some bat flips when he goes deep at Safeco Field. And it would be interesting when the Rangers come to town with the possibility that Bautista and Rougned Odor could get into it again like they did two years ago when Odor landed one of best roundhouse rights in MLB history.
Heck, you’ve still got Cruz as an option in right field too, and when Haniger returns, you could move him to left if he gets healthy faster than Gamel and Heredia. Cruz is a much better option as a designated hitter and less likely to get hurt, but still, I like the option of seeing more of Cruz in right field than Ichiro.
At what point do we stop living in the past with the Mariners? I understand that those who want Ichiro back are looking at it as a temporary fix, or at least they should be. Now that it’s a real possibility, I’d reply: “WHAT?!?!”
This is nostalgic nonsense. Then again, I’ll freely admit that if I think something’s a bad idea, the opposite usually happens and we’ll see Ichiro in right field leading the Mariners to the World Series this year.
I might be wrong about this, too – I always felt Ichiro was more into Ichiro and his stats than the team. Maybe that’s a misperception, and maybe he’s changed now that he’s older and well past his goal of 3,000 major-league hits.
I used to see a therapist who no doubt thought I was a piece of work, but she would try to help me by saying: “Jim, please,” as in “JIM, PLEASE,” imploring me to follow her advice.
Let me try this out on general manager Jerry Dipoto on the really, really off-chance he will read this column. “Jerry, PLEASE, anyone but Ichiro, thank you.”
I’m ready for a new name, not a throwback to 2001.