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Ichiro Suzuki not done but no longer cornerstone

The ball kicked off an archway, took a goofy bounce and rolled toward the right-field corner. Ichiro Suzuki, still in his prime, danced around the bases for the first inside-the-park home run in All-Star Game history.

It was 2007 at China Basin, and nobody was talking about Ichiro’s declining production as they are now. At 38, he hasn’t been valuable as a leadoff hitter because of a low on-base percentage or a No. 3 hitter because of puny power numbers.

That’s where he appears for the Mariners, who are reaching a crossroads with the international legend and future Hall of Famer whose numbers are in decline a second straight season and whose batting average is 50 points lower than his career mark.

If Seattle management is all about building a better baseball team, Ichiro probably wouldn’t get a crack at 3,000 hits in a Mariners uniform. He’d become a free agent after this season and be forced to walk. Or be traded before the July 31 deadline.

There’s more to it.

He’s tight with majority owner Hiroshi Yamauchi of Nintendo fame, who was instrumental in bringing him to Seattle and appreciates his monetary worth. Just suiting up, Ichiro makes tons of revenue for the Mariners, including from Japan. The road to 3,000 hits, while not necessarily a benefit between the lines, would be a moneymaker and give the Mariners plenty of attention.

Akin to the Giants keeping Barry Bonds just to break Hank Aaron‘s record.

Ichiro is 485 hits shy of 3,000 and would need two or three years to get there. He makes $17 million in the final year of a five-year, $90 million deal, signed days after he was named MVP of the ’07 All-Star Game. He has no-trade powers, based on 10 years in the majors, five with one team, and there’s no indication he wants to leave Seattle, even if it means playing for a contender.

That could change between now and the deadline. He’d love another multiyear contract with the Mariners, but it’s realistic he’d need to settle for a one-year deal, as countryman Hideki Matsui, after his huge Yankee contract expired, did with the 2010 Angels ($6 million) and 2011 A’s ($4.25 million). Now he’s making $900,000 with the Rays.

That’s what Ichiro does. As a No. 2 or No. 7 hitter, he could bring more value than hitting first or third. He still plays a mean right field, doesn’t get hurt (averaging 159 games a season) and still gets hits, albeit those hits generally don’t go for extra bases and aren’t accompanied by many walks.

Ichiro went 15-for-34 in an eight-game stretch through Wednesday, but those spurts are rare. He’s hitting .272 with a .300 on-base percentage, four homers and 26 RBIs. He still has more baseball in him – but as a complementary piece, not a franchise cornerstone.

via Ichiro Suzuki not done but no longer cornerstone – SFGate.


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