Yesterday on The Daily Weekly, Mike Seely made the case that the Mariners ought to trade Ichiro to a contending team in exchange for a few blue-chip prospects. Seely is of the opinion that the team only keeps Ichiro around because he's "the main draw," and, as a sparse Monday-night crowd of 13,000 proved, they're no longer drawing much of anyone with their losing ways. On the surface Seely's logic might seem sound, but trading Ichiro would be among the worst moves the Mariners could ever make.
As Michael Pineda's brilliant Safeco debut last night proved, the team has a potent one-two punch with him and Felix Hernandez locked up for years to come. Combined with Justin Smoak (showing flashes of brilliance that might well make him worth the hefty price paid in the form of Cliff Lee) and Dustin Ackley, the foundation is there for the Mariners. And, while they're admittedly awful, they've still won two of their first four series. They're not that awful. With a few smart moves and a couple more prospects who pan out, they could be a force to be reckoned with three or four seasons from now.
In four years, Ichiro will be 41. Unless he has some magical anti-aging secret (and since it's Ichiro, that's not outside the realm of possibility), his production will dip dramatically by then. But while he might not play Gold Glove defense and rack up 200 hits a season, given his work ethic and style of play, he could still be a valuable veteran leader on a playoff team. If the Mariners are that playoff team, Ichiro deserves to be a part of it.
He is worth far more than a few prospects. He is the first Japanese position player to play in the Major Leagues. He is a guaranteed first-ballot Hall of Famer. He is the team's player of the past decade, and the face of the franchise. He's been loyal, committed, and never complained publicly no matter how shitty his teammates were. That's not the type of player you trade away for a few prospects. That's what Erik Bedard and anybody other than Felix, Pineda, Ackley, and maybe Smoak are for.
(And let's not forget that Seely is putting his faith in a front office whose trading abilities haven't worked out so well in the past. Was swapping Griffey--injury-plagued as he became--worth Mike Cameron, Brett Tomko, Antonio Perez, and Jake Meyer?)
Ichiro plays beautifully and he plays hard. He's been so great because he competes against himself and against the game, enabling him to achieve even when the Mariners rack up 100 losses. There's a special bond between fans and certain players, especially ones as charismatic and singularly talented as Ichiro. Maybe it's just me, but rooting for the home team means more than being ruthless enough about winning to want to trade your most compelling and dedicated player in hopes of future success.
Everyone wants to see Ichiro win a championship. It would be a fitting end to his storied career. But that title should come while Ichiro is still wearing a Mariners uniform, not Yankee pinstripes or Boston red and navy. His dedication and performance should be rewarded by nothing but gratitude and millions and millions of yen. Not a trade.