Ichiro, The AL West and The Pursuit of Cliff Lee

May 27, 2010, 6:28 PM | Updated: Apr 4, 2011, 7:55 pm

Chicago Tribune columnist, Phil Rogers, recently wrote a piece claiming Ichiro – yes Ichiro – is the most overrated player in baseball. He claims his lack of power and the overall weakness of the Mariner offense are evidence that he’s overrated and shouldn’t command an $18 million salary.

To be fair, and not relegate to hometown bias, we brought on ESPN senior baseball writer, Jayson Stark, the author of “The Stark Truth: The Most ichiroOverrated and Underrated Players in Baseball History,” to help settle this debate. And as it turns out the “czar” of the overrated/underrated debate is on the side of Ichiro. Stark pointed to Ichiro’s dependability, (he’s played in at least 146 games in each of his nine years with the Mariners) his ability to get on base (He’s been on base more in his career than any player in baseball except for Albert Pujols and Bobby Abreu) and his nine gold gloves to debunk the arguments of this guy who dared to disparage our man Ichiro.

“I don’t understand his argument exactly,” Stark said. “He does exactly what you would want him to do. He hits for a high average, his on-base percentage in 20 points higher than Johnny Damon. I know people find fault with the guy, but the fact that he’s a singles hitter, I don’t think that’s the reason.”

Once that was settled, the conversation moved to Seattle’s chances of clawing its way back into contention in the A.L. West. The two-game sweep of the Tigers and a glimpse of some power from Milton Bradley and Mike Sweeney has given many Mariners fans hope. Stark said that because no one is likely to run away with this division, Seattle might stay in it, but the team’s weak offense would likely continue to be its Achilles Heel.

“They just don’t score enough, and when they do score they have to work so hard to score,” Stark said. “No matter how well you pitch and no matter how well you catch it, when you dig this kind of whole for yourself, it’s going to be easy.”

cliff-lee-031510jpg-12bec8199eb287afIf the Mariners do fall out of contention, it’s highly likely that Cliff Lee will be on the market. When asked where the most likely landing spot for Lee would be if the organization decides that 2010 is a lost cause, Stark said the Dodgers, a team that actively pursued Lee both at the trade deadline last year and during the off-season, will have interest again, as well as prospects they would be willing to send to Seattle.

Later, Bill Shaikin from the Los Angeles Times was a guest to discuss the Dodgers’ possible pursuit of Lee. He said the team has inquired with the Mariners, but at this point the team isn’t willing to part with Lee. If Seattle eventually does decide to move Lee, Shaikin said that while the Dodgers need help with their starting rotation, the team would only be willing to give up Class A-ball prospects.

Finally, Stark talked about how the Mariners should handle the Ken Griffey Jr. situation. While a segment of Mariners fans believe the team needs to111 move on Griffey and simply put out the best lineup possible day in and day out, Stark explained that it’s not as simple as just letting the guy go. Stark pointed out what’s he’s done for the organization and his stature in Seattle as reasons why the Mariners can’t do anything without Junior’s consent.

“I don’t think that when you’re dealing with a player of the level of Ken Griffey Jr. that you just decide he’s done and then you crumple him and throw him into the trash compactor,” Stark said. “Guys that have had the career he’s had and are of the stature that he is of need to be treated differently. They have earned that. … This is one human being who deserves the benefit of the doubt. … If you really decide he can’t play, how to you go about this? He’s really put the Mariners in a tough spot. … Whatever they do I think they have to work out with him mutually. They can’t do anything arbitrarily. It would just be too disrespectful to someone who has had his career.”

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Ichiro, The AL West and The Pursuit of Cliff Lee