The Mariners needed to activate Erasmo Ramirez from the disabled list to start on Sunday. To make room for him, Heredia was optioned to the Rainiers, while Ichiro remained.
ARLINGTON, Texas — The player with a definable role and obvious value was packing his bags and readying himself to join a team that he shouldn’t be playing for based on his performance.
Meanwhile, the future Hall of Famer, whose presence on the team can’t be defined by empirical measure, but only nostalgia and nebulous concepts such as clubhouse leadership, remained in the clubhouse, preparing himself for a rare spot in the starting lineup — something that likely won’t happen often in the coming days.
There was going to be a roster reckoning for the Seattle Mariners eventually. People could see it coming. How they handled it would say a lot about the organization, the ownership group and their intentions going forward.
It came on Sunday morning when they needed to activate Erasmo Ramirez from the disabled list so he could take the ball later that afternoon as the team’s fifth starter. To make room for Ramirez, the Mariners made the curious move of optioning outfielder Guillermo Heredia to Class AAA Tacoma, keeping Ichiro on the 25-man roster.
The decision only appeased the Mariners’ critics, who have long held that the organization doesn’t understand or do what is necessary to win.
It was a stunning move considering Heredia’s place on the roster had been absolute since the offseason. As the best defensive outfielder on the roster, he fit a perfect role — fourth outfielder, pinch hitter, pinch runner, part-time starter in left field when there was a left-handed starting pitcher on the mound like on Sunday.
A statistical comparison coming into Sunday:
Heredia: 16 games, .310 batting average (9 for 29), .417 on-base percentage, .552 slugging percentage, a double, two hoomers, four RBI, four runs scored, 0.7 Wins Above Replacment value (WAR) from Baseball Reference.
Ichiro: 11 games, .212 batting average (7 for 33), .212 on-base percentage, .212 slugging percentage, no extra basehits, -0.4 WAR value from Baseball Reference.
Ichiro did go 2 for 3 with two infield singles and drew his first two walks of the season in Sunday’s series finale, raising his average to .250 and on-base percentage to .289.
Manager Scott Servais played the good employee and tried to justify a decision that wasn’t his to make.
“The upcoming scheduled played into it,” he said. “We face seven consecutive right-handed starters after today. So trying to manage the roster is what we are trying to do. Heredia has done a nice job for us. He’s certainly has a role for us. Our whole group felt playing time-wise, outside of today vs. Martin Perez, the rest of the road trip is against right-handed starters that’s where it went.”
The anticipated move to make room for Ramirez wasn’t going to involve Ichiro or Heredia. It seemed as though the Mariners would option a reliever to Class AAA Tacoma and run with a seven-man bullpen. But when James Paxton pitched just four innings on Saturday night and the Mariners bullpen needed to work overtime, that plan was scrapped. Servais admitted as much before Sunday’s game.
“We looked at lot of different options on where to go to get Erasmo back (on the roster),” he said. “Last night going into the game, we were anticipating Pax to go a little longer and we wouldn’t be as taxing on our bullpen. So the first option was to maybe look at a pitcher. But based on where that’s gone the last couple of days with our starting pitching and how much we’ve relied on our bullpen, it really wasn’t an option.”
So Heredia became the roster casualty. Unless there’s a roster move involving a player going on the disabled list, he must wait a minimum of 10 days in the minor leagues before he can be brought back.
“Heredia will be back with us,” Servais said. “He’s a good player. We love the way he plays and the way he goes about it. It’s about managing all the pieces. And that’s the decision we made.”
Heredia quietly got his things pregame and even gave Ichiro a hug on the way out the door. He didn’t throw a fit about the situation.
“The conversation was fine,” Servais said. “G is a pro. He understands. He’s about one thing, it’s about helping the Mariners win. You see it how he plays every day and his actions in the clubhouse and handling the discussions like this — he’s an absolute professional. He knows he’ll be back very, very soon.”
When Ben Gamel was suffered a strained oblique during spring training and was expected to miss at least the first month of the season, the Mariners decided to bring back Ichiro on a one-year contract. There was pomp and circumstance and memories and laughter. But any skeptical person could see down the road how awkward the situation might become when Gamel was finally healthy enough to return.
The question of “how do you just release a Hall of Famer and a franchise icon?” was apparent.
The Mariners answer: “You don’t.”