How does Ichiro fit with the Mariners now? Jerry Dipoto addresses his future
When the Mariners brought back team legend and future Hall of Famer Ichiro Suzuki back in spring training, it was because they had a need in the outfield. Now that the player he was originally signed to fill in for is back on the active roster, there is a question that begs to be asked.
What is next for Ichiro and the Seattle Mariners?
General manager Jerry Dipoto addressed that subject on 710 ESPN Seattle’s Danny, Dave and Moore on Wednesday (listen to the full interview here), the same day left fielder Ben Gamel returned from the disabled list from his oblique strain that opened the door for Ichiro in early March.
“Ichi will slide into an extra role, and Ben will play left field more often than not,” Dipoto said. “(That) leaves Guillermo Heredia and Ichiro as extra outfielders, and our intent is to the best we can manage all the pieces. At the end of the day, what matters most is what makes us the best team we can be, and the best team we can be is managing the clubhouse, is managing the roster, is managing the lineup, and it’s making sure to manage personalities.”
The 44-year-old Ichiro has seen limited playing time as it is to this point in the season, hitting .212 (7 for 33) with three runs scored and no extra base hits in 11 games. While he still has value to the Mariners off the bench with his ability to hit, run the bases and play left field, it’s his impact on the other players that is really standing out, according to Dipoto.
“You invest in people and you invest in leadership, and I think Ichiro’s really brought that,” Dipoto said. “He’s done so much behind the scenes that has really helped us to develop a good clubhouse environment and I think a positive approach night in and night out to who we’re playing.
“The way he carries himself, the presence, how giving he is to the players downstairs – just watching the interactions with guys like Dee Gordon, Mitch Haniger and Robinson Cano. From the most accomplished players in our clubhouse to the youngest, most impressionable, he’s touched every one of them in a positive way. And we want to find a way to make that a common event.”
As it stands now, the Mariners have room for Ichiro on their roster, but Dipoto was realistic in discussing that it may not be that way for the whole season.
“Eventually you’re not going to have the luxury of carrying five outfielders, and then we’ll have to figure out how the pieces fit. This is not that time.”
Should Ichiro’s spot on the roster eventually go to someone else, don’t expect to see him in the dugout or elsewhere with the franchise in a coaching role. At least not immediately.
“Ichi wants to play,” Dipoto said. “I don’t think there’s any question he wants to play, and I think you’re seeing why. He cares so much about it. In many ways, there are players who are defined by their behaviors, like most of us as humans, and I think Ichiro might stand out the most among them because of his preparation, because of how much he has put into creating himself as a player. And he deserves the ability to go play. He’s earned it.”
The way Ichiro has adjusted to being a role player in Seattle, much like Ken Griffey Jr. did when he returned to the Mariners late in Ichiro’s first tenure with the team, has impressed Dipoto, and he spoke about how that is deserving of respect from the team.
“You have to wonder how easily a player can acclimate to moving into more of a support role rather than a starring role, and I think Ichiro has handled it remarkably well,” Dipoto said. “When players as accomplished as Ichiro or as accomplished as Ken Griffey Jr. return to the team that they made their fame with, it’s not as simple as being the fourth outfielder on the New York Yankees or the Miami Marlins. In Seattle, you are Ichiro. In Seattle, you are ‘The Kid.’ While they are great players no matter where they go, there’s a special resonance I think that really you can’t get away from in this market.
“(Ichiro) has been great. He’s been a model teammate, he works as hard as any player I’ve ever watched – truly. For him to be able to do the things he does at age 44 is phenomenal. But what he’s brought to our club really deserves to be noted, and he deserves to be handled and dealt with in a respectful way, for not just for all he’s accomplished but for the way he carries himself today.”