Remember the good old Mariners days when they had so many injuries to pitchers that they were working out grocery baggers from QFC? Now, it’s the turn of the outfielders: The Mariners are considering bringing back Ichiro while LF Ben Gamel heals from an oblique strain that will keep him out four to six weeks.
At least the grocery baggers were kids. Ichiro is 44.
According to a report Monday in USA Today citing an anonymous source, the club and its former hero (2001-12) are nearing an agreement on a one-year deal. Ichiro has been working out in Japan and was expected to play there in 2018 unless he had an offer from MLB.
Lo and behold . . .
The club announced Monday morning that Gamel, the likely starter in left who injured himself Friday swinging in the batting cage at spring training in Peoria, AZ., had an MRI that disclosed a more serious strain, keeping him out of the Opening Day lineup March 29 and beyond.
The news follows a six-day absence by starting RF Mitch Haniger, who is dealing with hand tendinitis that inhibits his swing. Another returning outfielder, Guillermo Heredia, is coming off shoulder surgery and is being worked in slowly.
The one healthy veteran outfielder is newcomer Dee Gordon, a career second baseman who is in center field for the first time. Presumably the Mariners have assigned him an assistant trainer to cut his steaks and keep him on an autograph count to lessen his chances for injury.
In his third season with the Miami Marlins in 2017, Ichiro was mostly a pinch-hitter who finished with 196 at-bats and a .255 batting average, three homers, 20 RBI, a .649 OPS and -0.3 WAR.
The Marlins declined to pick up a $2 million contract option and bought him out for $500,000, making him a free agent.
Having traded away most of their MLB-ready prospects, the Mariners farm system does not have an obvious candidate for a promotion. In the off-season, they hired as a non-roster invitee Kirk Nieuwenhuis, 30, who has 978 at-bats in six major league seasons with four teams. He has a career .221 average with 31 homers and 117 RBIs and a 2.8 WAR. Last year at Milwaukee he had 26 ABs and hit .115.
But the Seattle Times reported he strained a hamstring running the bases and has missed a week.
Numerous free agent outfielders are unsigned, including Melky Cabrera, 33, but they are likely seeking more than one-year deals. The Mariners are unlikely to want to invest in a player who is a temporary hire.
Ichiro burst on the MLB scene in a big way in 2001 when he was named the American League’s MVP and rookie of the year. The future Hall of Famer has 3,080 hits over his 17-year major league career. The Mariners dealt him to the Yankees in the middle of the 2012 season.
His hire would have to await a return from Japan and a passing a physical exam, so his bobblehead night is not yet known.