|Time for Ichiro to leave Seattle||| Print ||
Written by Jonathan Leshanski (Contact & Archive) on August 08, 2011
The good news is that the Mariners are probably better than the Astros.¬† The bad news is that is about the nicest thing I can say about that west coast franchise especially after the trading deadline.¬† The Mariners are a small market team who not that many years ago had big ambitions.
Somewhere those ambitions got sidetracked.¬† The biggest problem here isn't a lack of talent, although that certainly is a contributing factor, but a management and ownership that won't make the hard decisions.¬† They refuse to face a hard reality that this is a team in need of significant change.¬† This team doesn't have a tiny payroll, but one which sits at around $83 million dollars (down from a high of ~$118 million in 2008). ¬†But one which has been cut in recent years as the team has continued to underachieve.
But the team's Japanese owner, Hiroshi Yamuchi, once considered the richest man in Japan bet heavily on Ichiro, and having a winning team to sell broadcast rights and subscriptions in Japan.¬† That was before the Mariners went from paper contenders to laughingstocks in the AL West.¬† And that was only part of Yamuchi's woes as his net worth fell by roughly a third along with the global economy and cash flow to the Mariners for free agents and big signings has fallen.
While the Mariners traded what they could before the deadline, namely Erik Bedard, they got little in return and virtually no relief in terms of salary by trading him away.¬† And they need the salary relief to start rebuilding. But that's hard to do when you have don't have a lot to trade.¬† And while Figgins has played himself into a state where no one would be willing to take on his salary, they do have one other trade chip they should have been looking to move -- Ichiro.
As much as I admire Suzuki and what he's accomplished in his career, he isn't capable of carrying this team and cannot justify an $18 million salary no matter what the Mariners are being paid for broadcast rights in Japan.¬† And that perhaps is the biggest problem; the Mariners are Ichiro's team, and many Japanese companies are the Mariners biggest advertisers, thus even in the twilight of his career Ichiro is a cash cow for ownership.
Much like Barry Bonds was to the Giants, no player is more associated with the modern Mariners name than Ichiro, and just like in San Francisco the team is not willing to let go. The reality is that Ichiro at this point of his career is the .263 hitter with 24 RBIs that he's posted so far in 2011. ¬† Admittedly he's capable of being better, and perhaps with a contender rather than this dog of a team he very well might be, and he might even get a chance to earn a World Series ring before his career come to a close.
There is no excuse from a baseball perspective that Ichiro shouldn't have been shopped before the non-waiver trading deadline.¬† But from a business point of view it might have been suicide for an organization which has some of the best broadcast rights in the game due to Ichiro, who also STILL fills seats with tourists from Japan.
But the truth is that Ichiro's popularity, like the Mariners competitiveness, is fading at least to a degree.¬† He hasn't played in Japan since 2000 and while older fans revere him there, the younger generation only sees Ichiro, Seattle Mariner, not Ichiro, Japanese baseball legend.¬† No where near as many fans want to listen or watch a last place team, especially one that is not their hometown team.
From a baseball point of view Ichiro's reputation would have likely enticed someone to overpay or at least take on a large part of the $24 million left on his contract.¬† As much as Ichiro may love Seattle, he can't love playing there, losing and losing and losing.
Whatever Ichiro may be, he's a Japanese ballplayer and one who understands the notion of team and doing what is right for both for his self and the organization.¬† That means he would at least like to have the option to play for a contender before he retires and probably to do a bit of good for an organization which has been good to him.
Maybe he wouldn't agree to a trade, but Ichiro is no fool.¬† The Mariners have money and make money -- far more than they spend on payroll.¬† And if they won't spend, this organization isn't going anywhere, unless they can free up salary by getting rid of players they have, and that means getting rid of Ichiro, something which for financial reasons won't happen.
This is an organization that can turn things around, but unless ownership opens its pockets again and spends some of the profits, the team is going to have a very slow road.¬† Shedding bad contracts down the road will free up some cash, but not a lot.
That means many more years of Mariners mediocrity while ownership milk the cash cow.