BY Art Thiel 02:34PM 03/05/2018

Thiel: Gamel’s down, so Mariners talking to Ichiro

Ben Gamel is hurting, Mitch Haniger is hurting, Guillermo Heredia is recovering and the Mariners have no outfield prospects who are ready. So . . . Ichiro?!

Will Ichiro be back in Seattle? / Alan Chitlik, Sportspress Northwest

Remember the good old Mariners days when they had so many injuries to pitchers that they were working out grocery baggers from QFC? Now, it’s the turn of the outfielders: The Mariners are considering bringing back Ichiro while LF Ben Gamel heals from an oblique strain that will keep him out four to six weeks.

At least the grocery baggers were kids. Ichiro is 44.

According to a report Monday in USA Today citing an anonymous source, the club and its former hero (2001-12) are nearing an agreement on a one-year deal. Ichiro has been working out in Japan and was expected to play there in 2018 unless he had an offer from MLB.

Lo and behold . . .

The club announced Monday morning that Gamel, the likely starter in left who injured himself Friday swinging in the batting cage at spring training in Peoria, AZ., had an MRI that disclosed a more serious strain, keeping him out of the Opening Day lineup March 29 and beyond.

The news follows a six-day absence by starting RF Mitch Haniger, who is dealing with hand tendinitis that inhibits his swing. Another returning outfielder, Guillermo Heredia, is coming off shoulder surgery and is being worked in slowly.

The one healthy veteran outfielder is newcomer Dee Gordon, a career second baseman who is in center field for the first time. Presumably the Mariners have assigned him an assistant trainer to cut his steaks and keep him on an autograph count to lessen his chances for injury.

In his third season with the Miami Marlins in 2017, Ichiro was mostly a pinch-hitter who finished with 196 at-bats and a .255 batting average, three homers, 20 RBI, a .649 OPS and -0.3 WAR.

The Marlins declined to pick up a $2 million contract option and bought him out for $500,000, making him a free agent.

Having traded away most of their MLB-ready prospects, the Mariners farm system does not have an obvious candidate for a promotion. In the off-season, they hired as a non-roster invitee Kirk Nieuwenhuis, 30, who has 978 at-bats in six major league seasons with four teams. He has a career .221 average with 31 homers and 117 RBIs and a 2.8 WAR. Last year at Milwaukee he had 26 ABs and hit .115.

But the Seattle Times reported he strained a hamstring running the bases and has missed a week.

Numerous free agent outfielders are unsigned, including Melky Cabrera, 33, but they are likely seeking more than one-year deals. The Mariners are unlikely to want to invest in a player who is a temporary hire.

Ichiro burst on the MLB scene in a big way in 2001 when  he was named the American League’s MVP and rookie of the year. The future Hall of Famer has 3,080 hits over his 17-year major league career. The Mariners dealt him to the Yankees in the middle of the 2012 season.

His hire would have to await a return from Japan and a passing a physical exam, so his bobblehead night is not yet known.


  • David Michel

    Mariners have made some dumb moves in the past, believe me. This one may just take the cake. He is 44 years old! I don’t care that he keeps himself in shape or whatever. This sure looks and smells like a publicity stunt, even though we have had injuries to the outfield. Shows how pathetic our farm system is. DiPoto is partly to blame for that, in my humble opinion.

    • coug73

      O boy, Ichiro Bobble Head Night and Ichiro T-shirt night. Plus each at bat and chance in the outfield a potential thrill. HOF performer for sure.

      • art thiel

        It is telling that the Mariners history is so dubious that many fans reflexively think, “stunt.” Not saying it’s wrong, it’s just that so many years of failure have exhausted credibility with so many.

        • Effzee

          For once, I didn’t default to “stunt.” I think they think this is actually their best option for help on the field.

  • Ron

    Seahawks should bring back Walter Jones. He’s 44 also.

    • Kevin Lynch

      What about Walter Johnson? He’s only 130 plus his pitcher’s WAR is rediculous!

      • Ron

        Why not Ruth? Only 123 and can play outfield.

  • jafabian

    Looking at the waiver wire the pickings are slim beyond Melky and he would be too expensive. The M’s are vested in their young OF and Ichiro fits the bill for what they’re looking for: a veteran OF who can pinch hit, accepts his role and won’t make waves. He’ll be a good influence on the OF and there’s more of a veteran core here in Seager, Cano, Cruz, Segura and Felix than when he left.

    • art thiel

      They have done worse. Then again, that bar is so low.

      • jafabian

        Just hope he can stay healthy. The Mariners outfielders are so snakebit with injuries you’d think they’re Seahawks!

        • Effzee

          Ooooh, now that is a good question!

        • Kirkland

          Probably not. Apparently was important for Japanese culture to show that he hadn’t fully assimilated. Hence the constant interpreters despite him knowing English.

  • Sam Base

    The obvious knee-jerk reaction is something like this: “Ohhhh here we go again with the Mariners and their sick obsession with the past at the expense of the future! How dare they! It’s going to ruin our budding dynasty!” But I figure the M’s are probably going to finish 3rd anyway (possibly 4th) and out of the playoff race so why not just roll with it. Besides, I can’t think of a better guy right now to mentor Dee Gordon in center field than his friend and former teammate Ichiro.

    • art thiel

      That is more likely the case. Ichiro isn’t going to sell more than a few dozen tickets over the novelty of his return.

  • 1coolguy

    As much as I love Ichiro and respect his game, the M’s are simply pulling out all the stops to sell tickets, not making the team better. Once again, I will pass buying even one (1) ticket this year, as it’s the same old, same old.

    • art thiel

      I think it speaks to a paucity of MLB-ready talent. The Mariners aren’t kidding themselves about a 44-year-old’s future. They need only short-term help.

  • Effzee

    So you’re telling me that in year three of Dipoto, there isn’t a single player in the farm system capable of being the 4th outfielder for a couple of months?

    • art thiel

      That’s what they’re telling you.

  • Husky73

    Considering what they have to work with (nada), bringing Ichiro back is a reasonable move. He can fill in, pinch hit and mentor a new center fielder. So, I’m guessing that Tacoma is going to field a six man team with no outfielders?

  • Tman

    It’s all so Woody Woodward.

  • Kirkland

    Side thought: When the Mariners retire number 51 next decsde, will that be for Ichiro himself, or jointly with Randy Johnson?

  • Ed Norton

    I wonder where the new Director of High Performance Lorena Martin fits in all these injuries. According to the press release last October announcing her hiring, she is “responsible for coordinating all aspects of the Mariners physical and
    mental training approach of players and staff, including oversight of
    the entire organization’s medical, strength and conditioning, nutrition
    and mental skills departments.”
    If her responsibility was to reduce the number of injuries, her score card so far has to be graded as “needs improvement”.