As we get closer and closer to the start of Spring Training, the number of Free Agent players still out there slowly diminishes. Word spread last week that a team, nobody knew which one, had offered $110. million to James Shields and it began to appear that Max Scherzer would reach some type of agreement with and remain with the Tigers.
Ex-Red Sox and Yankee shortstop, Stephen Drew, apparently had lowered his asking price from $9. million to $7. million. You’d think, after sitting out half the season last year, Drew would have taken whatever he could get and be happy. I mean, it’s not as if he set the league on fire after coming back last year. His 44 hits in 271 at bats for a .162 average in 85 games between the Yankees and Red Sox, while being paid $10. million, is not exactly the type of production most teams are looking for. Last week, he finally signed with the Yankees for $5. million plus incentives.
On the other hand, Ichiro Suzuki, 41 years old, who played in 143 games with the Yankees last year, granted quite often as a defensive replacement late in games, but still managed to hit .284 in 359 at bats, is still out there in the Free Agent market with no one showing any special interest in him.
Suzuki, who was 27 years old when he made his debut in the Major Leagues with the Seattle Mariners, has had a relatively short but unbelievably productive 14 years playing baseball in the United States. After winning the batting title in Japan seven times and the Most Valuable Player award three times, he debuted with the Mariners on April2, 2001.
In his first year, all he did was hit .350, led the league in hits with 242, was named Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player in the American League. He topped the league with 56 stolen bases, led his team to 116 wins and the American League West Title and was named to the All Star Team for the first of ten years in succession. The 116 wins tied them with the 1906 Chicago Cubs for the most in a season in baseball history. The Mariners beat the Cleveland Indians in the Division Series but lost to the New York Yankees in the Championship Series.
As if the first year wasn’t enough, he led the league in hitting again in 2004 with a .372 average and an all time record 262 hits. He would also lead the league in hits every year from 2006 -2010 and in the other three years, 2002, 2003 and 2005, he finished second in hits each year. He won the Gold Glove every year from 2001-2010 and the Silver Slugger in 2001, 2007 and 2009.
Ichiro achieved almost Folk Hero status in Seattle. The first time I saw him play in Safeco Field, in 2004, the fans were giving him standing ovations for making routine plays in the field. At that time, one of the local television stations had a three story picture of him on the side of its building. He was an exceptionally talented fielder with a strong and accurate arm with a great sense of where he was on the field. In addition to his hitting and fielding, he is a gifted base runner with great base stealing ability.
He has amassed an amazing record in his fourteen year career. His career batting average is .317 and he has a total of 2,844 hits and 487 stolen bases. If you are wondering that’s an average of 203 hits and almost 35 stolen bases per season for 14 years.
Ichiro is one of the hardest working players in the game when it comes to conditioning. His work ethic has made it possible for him to stay healthy while playing an average of 157 games of the162 his team played per season for that 14 years. Amazingly, from 2010 through 2012, when he was 37-39 years old, he missed only one game of 486 his team played.
His unique batting style where he seems to reach back to hit the ball after already starting towards first base earns him more than his share of infield hits. He has slowed down somewhat and appears to be nearing the end of his career but, watching him last year and looking at his .284 batting average and defensive ability, there are several teams that could benefit from having his veteran presence in their outfield and in their clubhouse.
Lacking just 156 hits for the magic 3,000, it would be a shame if he did not get an opportunity to reach that plateau. Between his Japanese and American play, he has already passed the 4,000 hit mark and, whether he reaches the 3,000 mark or not, he should be a first round selection for the Hall of Fame when he is eligible.
Imagine what his numbers would look like if he had played 20 years in the Major leagues based on his averages for 14. He would have had 4,062 hits, ( just 196 less than the great Pete Rose had in 23 years ), 700 stolen bases and played in 3,148 games.
Ichiro played for the Yankees for $6.5 million per year for the last two years and would probably play for much less than that for the chance to reach his 3,000th hit. I only hope that the fans are not denied the opportunity to see him achieve it.