What will be Ichiro’s role past Japan series with Mariners in 2019?
If there’s one word to sum up the message of the Mariners’ two hour long pre-spring training press conference, it’s “youth.” In fact, all that youth embodies – athleticism, speed, raw talent and hunger – is a clear theme of Mariners’ 2019 roster, and acts as a driving force behind general manager Jerry Dipoto’s decision to take “a step back” this season.
So it shouldn’t come as a surprise, even to the most hopeful fans, that Dipoto hinted Thursday that 45-year-old future Hall of Famer Ichiro Suzuki may not be part of the team’s 25-man roster following an season-opening two-game series in Japan.
“A lot of it’s going to be up to Ichiro, to be honest with you. Our intent in signing Ichiro is to bring one of the great players in the history of baseball, not just in the history of the Mariners organization, back to the playing field and see what happens,” Dipoto said.
Suzuki, who played 15 games for the Mariners last season before transitioning to a front office role in May, signed a minor-league contract with the Mariners earlier this week. The 45-year-old outfielder has a chance to be part of the team’s 28-man roster for a pair of games against the A’s in Tokyo.
“We want to handle Ichiro with all the respect and gratitude in the world for what he’s done for the Mariners organization and really celebrate him for what he’s done globally for baseball,” Dipoto said. “What happens after we come back from Tokyo? Again, first we have to ensure that he’s healthy enough to be on our roster in order to go. But when we come back our goal is to develop our young players, and I don’t know how more clearly I can say that.
“We want this season to be about Mitch Haniger and Mallex Smith and Domingo Santana. And whatever happens as we get into the season, we want to develop that group of players. And we have a responsibility to veteran players who we’ve committed to; guys like Jay Bruce and Edwin Encarnación stand out. So there’s a playing time; we can’t make up extra games in a season and we can’t create spots on a roster. But we can be open-minded to what happens. When great players get opportunity, it’s amazing what they can do with it.”
That doesn’t mean Dipoto has ruled Ichiro out playing for the Mariners past the opening series. In fact, that’s the last thing he says he’d do to the future Hall of Famer.
“I don’t ever want to guess what will happen with Ichiro if he gets an opportunity to take his at-bats, because I’m sure he’s made a career out of proving people wrong,” Dipoto said. “So I’m not going to guess on the side that says he’s wrong.”