They're the two words I never thought I'd type.
Is it time? It might be.
Ichiro Suzuki has been Seattle’s best and most pleasurable-to-watch athlete of the past decade. His production has been as consistent as it is — not was but is – remarkable. There isn’t any reason to believe his performance level will drop off this season or even next, which is precisely why the timing might be perfect for a swap ASAP.
Ichiro still has good (if not great) trade value. Yes, after an 0-for-5 matinee Wednesday (April 13) he’s hitting just .245. Yes, he’s had slow Aprils before. Yes, I’ll bet you my house that he hits .300 or better this season and I’ll toss in both of my dogs. And, yes, there are clubs that would put up impressive trade bait to get him at the front of their lineups.
What the Mariners presently need on offense isn’t what Ich can give them. He gets on base but nobody drives him in. Heading to Kansas City for four games before another home stand next week, Ich had crossed the plate just five times.
The M’s need power in the middle of the lineup, real power rather than the threat of an occasional home run. Managers understand this. Much has been made about the Justin Smoak acquisition as an attempt to put power into the middle. Maybe Smoak is a 30-home-run guy but his single dinger during the first 12 games projects to just 13 for the season and that’s if he plays every game.
Chone Figgins can be the lead-off guy for the time being. He’s younger than Ichiro and accustomed to batting first. Any number of others can play right field, especially if the Ichiro trade bait includes a quality outfielder.
Ichiro isn’t nearly the draw he once was. Obviously he isn’t the only reason for the M’s attendance level hitting bedrock during the recent home stand. What the Wednesday “crowd” of 12,407 (Monday they lured just 13,056) should be telling M’s execs is that they can’t count on picking up a lot of interest anymore in a product that is only technically major-league-level baseball.
This management group needs to start doing whatever it takes to see to it that the Seattle Mariners don’t lose their death-race with the Washington Nationals/Montreal Expos and become the last of the modern big-league teams to go to a World Series (if indeed they ever do get there).
Trading Ichiro obviously isn’t the sole component of putting together a pennant contender. But all the patter from the management the past few months about building a contender from the farm system no doubt sounds to many of the remaining fans like something commonly found on farms. If M’s execs are alarmed by sparse crowds now, wait until the presently 4-8 team is 10 games below .500 (that would be May 3 at the rate they're “playing”).
But there’s an even better reason to release Ich, preferably to a pennant-contender. Think of what he’s given fans in this region: the throw (or The Throw, as many refer to it), when he fired an elongated strike from right field to nail Oakland’s Terrence Long at third base; the infield hit off Randy Johnson in the 2001 all-star game at Safeco; the all-time-best 262-hit season in 2004, etc.
Don’t we kind of collectively owe Ichiro the chance to get to the post-season and maybe even help win a World Series? Obviously it isn’t going to happen here anytime soon and even Ichiro Suzuki will have to retire someday (albeit, to look at the seldom-injured specimen, maybe not for another decade).
Five years after that happens he’ll enter the Hall of Fame as a Seattle Mariner. Given the chance, though, he may yet find his greatest glory playing for a much better team.