With the Mets on a shoestring budget this offseason Sandy Alderson will not have his pick of the bunch when it comes to free agents. Mostly he’ll have to look at unproven, middle-of-the-road talent and aging veterans. One player in the latter category he may want to consider is Ichiro Suzuki.
Japan’s greatest export since Nintendo enjoyed an East Coast renaissance after the Mariners traded him to the Yankees in late June. After batting only .261 in Seattle, Ichiro looked like the former MVP of old in the Bronx, hitting .322 and helping his team reach the playoffs. He accepted his limited role gracefully (as if you expected anything else) and even learned to manage the other outfield positions at the Little League park known as Yankee Stadium.
His New York revival was a welcome sight, but Ichiro is still far from the player who had over 200 hits in each of his first 10 American seasons. He’s 39 years old, but the way he takes care of himself he could play into his 40s, assuming teams have interest in his services. The Yankees especially could use his speed and clubhouse leadership. If worse comes to worst, he can always return to his homeland and play out his twilight years in front of adoring Japanese crowds; the Orix Buffaloes, his old team, have already made contact with him.
While I’m guessing it would be a long shot for Ichiro to move to the National League at this point in his career, Sandy Alderson should give the future Hall-of-Famer a ring. While he’s not a regular .300 hitter anymore, his .283 average between Seattle and New York would have been fourth highest on the Mets in 2012. He’s lost some range in the outfield, but a 39-year-old Ichiro in right field is still a step up from Lucas Duda. Ichiro’s biggest asset when it comes to the Mets is his speed: he stole 29 bases last season, almost twice David Wright’s team-leading 15.
Andres Torres was supposed to be the speedy, reliable veteran outfielder for New York last season, and all he succeeded in doing was looking old. While Ichiro is even older than Torres, I have far more confidence in him. The last three years he’s led the AL in games played, and only once in his career has he played less than 157 games in a season. In addition, he would be more of an attendance draw than Torres could ever hope to be. Ichiro is still one of the most popular players in baseball, and New York’s Japanese population would flock to Citi Field for the chance to see the man who would get your fan mail if you addressed it to just “Ichiro.” He may be in the twilight of his career, but hey, aren’t they all when they come to the Mets?
He won’t command anything near the $17 million he earned last year at the end of his five-year, $90 million deal, but I think it’s fair to guess he’s looking for something in the $8-9 million per year range, half his 2012 salary. It would make the most sense for the Mets to offer him a simple one-year deal, perhaps with an option for 2014. If he insists on two years guaranteed Alderson probably shouldn’t go for it, but the team should at least take a look at bringing in the man who helped break down the barrier for everyday Japanese players in 2001.
So I ask you, fair reader: should Sandy Alderson look to keeping Ichiro Suzuki in New York City in 2013?