Ichiro's back in Seattle
Why keep 44-year-old Ichiro Suzuki over 27-year-old Guillermo Heredia?
Why subject a beloved franchise icon to the scrutiny that his place on the Seattle Mariners is the result of public relations over his ability to help them win baseball games?
And why keep two left-handed left fielders in Ichiro and Ben Gamel while sending right-handed hitting Heredia to Triple-A Tacoma?
Heredia can also play every outfield spot (and do them well) and is the 44th-fastest player in the major leagues, according to MLB’s statcast.
Not to mention Heredia was batting .310 with a .417 on-base percentage and .552 slugging percentage with two home runs in 16 games.
Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto and manager Scott Servais knew they would have to be the ones answering to this and they provided some justifications before Sunday’s game against the Texas Rangers.
And Dipoto said it didn’t have anything to do with PR.
“Based on the reaction, if it was about PR we probably would have done it the other way,” Dipoto told MLB.com.
They said it had to do with upcoming pitching matchups. The Mariners were scheduled to face right-handed starting pitchers each of the next 10 days, which leaves little room for Heredia’s right-handed bat to start.
Heredia can’t be recalled, barring a player moving to the disabled list, for at least 10 days.
“We won’t see another left-hander for 10 days. That’s Guillermo’s niche,” Dipoto said. “So he wouldn’t be playing much more than late-game defense. Our thought while navigating through this is to give Guillermo the chance to play regularly, and my assumption is he’ll be back in 10 days.”
But a lot of teams have left-handed relievers. The Mariners saw one Saturday, which led to them using Heredia as a pinch hitter.
He beat out an infield single and scored the first run of the Mariners’ five-run rally. Who knows if the comeback win happens if Heredia doesn’t make that play.
“This was not an easy decision,” Dipoto said. “Guillermo is a big part of what we do. We anticipate him being with us throughout the season.”
The Mariners had to make a corresponding move on Sunday because they activated right-hander Erasmo Ramirez off the disabled list, and they needed a fifth starter. They used Ariel Miranda last week, but the Mariners have said all along that they were going to entrust Ramirez with their final starting slot when he was healthy.
So to make way for Ramirez the Mariners had to make a move, and the thought was they’d option one of their relievers. And even if they were going to option one of their five outfielders (seven if you include Nelson Cruz and that Andrew Romine can play outfield), it certainly wouldn’t be Heredia over Ichiro. Heredia has looked like a more valuable player in every facet.
But James Paxton only pitched four innings in Saturday’s win. Servais said that messed with their original plans because they had to tax their bullpen.
“I think going into the game last night we were anticipating Paxton would go a little longer and we wouldn’t be as taxing on our bullpen,” Servais told reporters Sunday. “Our first option was maybe to look at a pitcher (to make way for Ramirez).
“Based on the past couple of days where that’s gone with our starting pitching and how much we’ve relied on our bullpen that really wasn’t an option.”
And apparently Heredia handled it well, Servais said.
“G is a pro,” Servais said. “He understands and he’s about one thing and that’s helping the Mariners win. You see it in how he plays every day and certainly his actions in the clubhouse and handling discussions like this. Absolutely professional and he knows he will be back very, very soon.”
Heredia might be about helping the Mariners win, but removing him over Ichiro resonated to most fans (at least by the reactions on social media) as a move made out of ticket sales and nostalgia over … helping the Mariners win.
And what seemed odd is that both Dipoto and Servais had made comments heading into the weekend hinting at Ichiro’s impending parting of ways.
The Mariners added Ichiro on a minor-league contract this offseason after Ben Gamel went to the disabled list with an oblique injury. And the Mariners were frank with Ichiro that Gamel would be their go-to left fielder once Gamel was healthy. And Dee Gordon in center field and Mitch Haniger in right field would be mainstays.
Well, Gamel returned at least two weeks before the Mariners were expecting he would, leaving them with a conundrum with what to do about one of the Mariners’ greatest players of all time in Ichiro.
“The original club coming into spring training did not have Ichiro on it,” Servais said on 710-AM radio on Thursday. “We’ll see. We love having Ichiro on the club. Ultimately, though, it’s about what’s best for the ball club and what’s going to help us win.”
And Dipoto on his weekly segment on 710-AM: “He deserves the ability to go play. He’s earned it. But unfortunately, right now, we feel like and have made no bones about it – when we brought him in he understood that Ben Gamel was on his way back and it probably happened a week or two weeks earlier than we thought it would. I’m very confident Ichiro still wants to play and still has the skills to play. It’s a matter of opportunity.
“But what he has brought to our club really does deserve to be noted and he deserves to be handled and dealt with in a respectful way. Not only for what all he has accomplished but for the way he carries himself still today.”
Both Dipoto and Servais have said Ichiro’s impact has been great in the clubhouse as a leader and mentor to younger players.
“There has to be a balance in decisions and not solely what you see on the field,” Dipoto said. “And that’s not to take away from the quality of a teammate Guillermo is, as well. This was not an easy decision, but it’s also not a permanent decision. Right now we’re doing our best to work through some choppy waters with the roster.”
“I love having (Ichiro) around,” Servais said. “I think he’s been a very good influence in our clubhouse and what he does there. We’ll see how this plays out in the next week or 10 days or so.”