The active major league hits leader, Ichiro Suzuki, is back with the Mariners, where he became an international phenomenon. If he performs close to the major league average at 44, he will be an international phenomenon again.
The club announced his signing Wednesday morning, after news broke Monday that the Mariners were in pursuit of immediate veteran outfield help following word of a muscle strain by LF Ben Gamel that will keep him out four to six weeks.
“We feel like it’s a good move for us, notably because of what Ichiro brings to us on the field but also what he brings to us in the clubhouse, what he brings to us in presence,” GM Jerry Dipoto said at a press conference at the team’s spring training headquarters in Peoria, AZ. “Frankly, with a young group in the outfield, up to and including Dee (Gordon), who never played out there despite the fact he’s been an All-Star in the league, that is something we feel like Ichiro brings is huge.
“We realized our major-league club was going to be deficient and we needed a little bit of help. We reached out to Ichiro. This dates back probably close to a week, where we reached out, and it did not take long to put a deal together that brought Ichiro back home.”
Manager Scott Servais, in an interview from spring training in Peoria on ESPN 710, was enthusiastic.
“It’s really exciting to bring him in,” he said. “He did so much for the organization and city for what he did on the field. I think he’ll help us win.
“We’ll give him a chance to gets his legs under him for a few days, and get him in a game this weekend.”
He said Ichiro won’t play six or seven days a week, but did say he could play four or five times a week depending on matchups and schedule. He will probably hit eighth or ninth.
Ichiro spent the past three seasons with the Miami Marlins. In 2017, he had 196 at-bats, including 100 as a pinch-hitter. He hit .255 with 20 RBIs and three home runs, one of which came in Seattle April 19 when Ichiro hit a home run in what was presumed then to be his final at-bat in the place he starred from 2001 to 2012.
His 27 pinch-hits in 2017 were one shy of the single-season major league record by Jon Vander Wal of Colorado in 1995.
The Marlins declined a $2 million option on his contract, and gave him a $500,000 buyout to make him a free agent. He reportedly has been working out in Japan until being summoned by the Mariners.
Ichiro began his MLB career in Seattle with a spectacular start in 2001. After winning his first of two American League batting titles while also leading the league in hits and stolen bases, Ichiro was named Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year while also earning a Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger.
He joined Boston’s Fred Lynn (1975) as the only players in either league to claim MVP and Rookie of the Year in the same season. It was also Ichiro’s first of 10 consecutive seasons with at least 200 hits – an MLB record – including a single-season record 262 hits in 2004.
From 2001-10, Ichiro won 10 consecutive Gold Glove Awards and made 10 consecutive trips to the All-Star Game.