Hiring Edgar Martinez as hitting coach is one way the Mariners hope to salvage a disappointing season. But their dip into the past shouldn’t stop there. If they can hang around the wild-card race through mid-July, they should contemplate trading with the Miami Marlins to bring Ichiro back.
Inside sports business
Hiring Edgar Martinez as hitting coach is one way the Mariners hope to salvage a disappointing season.
But their dip into the past shouldn’t stop there. If they can hang around the wild-card race through mid-July, they should contemplate trading with the Miami Marlins to bring Ichiro back.
Yes, I’m being serious.
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The issues plaguing the Mariners and limiting their ability to improve by next month’s trade deadline are mostly financial and compounded by the team’s design. Ichiro can help with skills Seattle lacks and getting him here shouldn’t cost much.
The Mariners’ biggest issue is they’re trying to contend without first developing a young core of above average position players to offset costs. The reality of baseball business is that avoiding the high cost of true contention requires multiple minimal-salaried players.
Otherwise, as we suggested back in December, the Mariners spending even a team record $120 million or so this year wouldn’t be enough. It costs far more to import proven production via free agency or trade and put guys like Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz all around the diamond.
After adding Cruz, the Mariners still appeared to need more full-time outfielders and another mid-level starting pitcher.
They’ve tried plugging holes with less-than stellar homegrown young players and cheaper platoon alternatives. So far, that hasn’t been good enough.
Remember, even with Cano, the Mariners last year scored only five more runs than during their 91-loss season in 2013. Last season’s 87 wins was mostly attributable to a June-through-mid-August stretch when their pitching allowed barely two runs per night.
That historic clip, due partly to abnormally good luck on batted balls by opponents, hasn’t continued. The Mariners are allowing a half-run more per game.
So, just to match those 87 wins — never mind those 90-plus-win predictions so fashionable last March — the Mariners needed to score a half-run more per night than last year. That was going to be tough merely by adding Cruz alone unless younger players delivered.
Yeah, Cano morphing into Chone Figgins made things worse. But the underlying issue, after seven seasons of rebuilding, is still that the Mariners have yet to develop an above average homegrown player beyond Kyle Seager.
The Mariners initially planned to develop a star-studded young core and only later spend on proven veterans once their youth was “ready” to contend. But after scoring huge TV money in 2013, they shifted plans and increased spending to hasten a contention process hampered by their youngsters’ continued struggles.
Not that there’s anything wrong with spending more to boost hope.
But the spending didn’t go far enough. There are still too many holes.
One problem is how money was spent. Payroll is pushing $130 million after the Mark Trumbo trade and the team still has too many guys who hit for power but otherwise can’t get on base.
Ichiro could help, though even that comes with caveats.
His on-base percentage was .340 entering last week, more than any Mariner other than Cruz. But an 0-for-15 slump has since dropped that below .320.
Also, star Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton broke his wrist Friday and will miss 4 to 6 weeks. That means Ichiro, previously limited to part-time play, is now needed more by Miami.
The idea is to get him cheap, since the Mariners lack trade bait and, honestly, should not be trading anyone major for what now looks like a playoff longshot at best.
Making the playoffs as built looks like it would have taken the Mariners at least a $150 million payroll. And ownership isn’t approving that this year.
So, any cheap upgrades help, especially with the team still on the wild card fringes.
If Ichiro’s slump isn’t permanent, his prior on-base ability could help turn some of those solo Mariners home runs into more.
Ichiro lacks power but makes frequent contact, unlike many strikeout-prone Mariners. He also adds needed speed.
Finally, he’s a natural outfielder playing three positions. The Mariners have used too many converted infielders in the outfield and lack flexibility.
Things have changed for the Mariners since 2012, when Ichiro comprised $19 million of their $85-million payroll. He’d be a $2 million player on this $130-million team with the Mariners paying only half his salary.
They don’t need Ichiro to be “the guy” anymore, only focus on what he does best.
It’s hardly a cure-all, but frankly, the Mariners are locked-into their financial decisions and roster composition and have few alternatives. Any serious roster overhaul needs to happen next winter, not in early July.
For now, there’s a season to salvage and if Ichiro can show he’s still got something, he’s a decent option for a team with little left to spend, trade or lose.