Ichiro Returns to the Mariners

The club signed the iconic outfielder to a one-year deal. Let’s appreciate the simple joy of that.

There are advantages to having zero expectations. It creates an environment devoid of letdowns, and allows one to enjoy the simple moments of relatively trivial happiness.

In related news: The Mariners have offically agreed to a one-year deal with 44-year-old outfielder—and franchise legend—Ichiro Suzuki.

After being left at the proverbial altar by Japanese pitching/hitting sensation Shohei Ohtani (did it have to be the Angels, Ohtani?!?), the Mariners have put together a real whimper of an off-season. Even in baseball—the sport in which hope springs eternal in the spring—there’s no sense of optimism or enthusiasm surrounding the organization. Nobody’s picking the team to make the playoffs, and why would they? The Mariners now boast the longest playoff drought in any of the major sports leagues (16 seasons … but who’s counting?).

While signing Ichiro doesn’t give the organization a sudden influx of hope, it does give fans a nice boost of simple, mildly nostalgic happiness. Seeing Ichiro slap singles and chase down balls in the outfield will rub that dog-belly sweet spot and make the overly long MLB season slightly more bearable.

Beyond the obvious boosts in fan interest, marketing, and merchandising opportunities that Ichiro creates, the signing actually makes sense from a baseball perspective. The Mariners have a young, inexperienced collection of outfielders, and most of them are nursing injuries at the moment. Ben Gamel just strained his oblique and could be out six weeks. Guillermo Heredia had offseason shoulder surgery. Mitch Haniger has been dealing with tendinitis in his hand. As a fifth outfielder, Ichiro provides experienced and durable depth.

Ichiro was essentially a replacement-level backup outfielder/pinch hitter last year with the Florida Marlins, where he put up a .255/.318/.332 line in just 215 plate appearances, but he’s just a year removed from a 2016 campaign where he batted .291/.354/.376 as a part-time starter. Basically, while he’s nowhere near his Hall of Fame peak, he isn’t totally washed up yet (think Ken Griffey Jr.’s 2009 return season with the M’s, not his unfortunate and abbreviated final year in 2010).

The last time the Mariners made the playoffs was Ichiro’s MVP rookie season. Would it be fitting for him to bookend his career with clutch hits down the stretch that help the Mariners finally return to the playoffs? Sure. Unlikely, but sure. Mainly, I just want to experience the joy of watching Ichiro play again … and for him to get a million hits off Ohtani.

ssommerfeld@seattleweekly.com

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