One of the phantoms of spring training, 2009, Ichiro Suzuki will likely play 162 games this season, most of them as the right fielder.
Just as likely, he'll collect 215 or so hits – 190 of those singles – score 100 runs, steal 35 bases, win a Gold Glove and, oh yes, be called overrated. And that will get more attention that any of the other things he does.
There's another way to look at Ichiro's value that has little to do with sabermetrics or the cloudy opinion of scouts.
Here it is: Imagine Ichiro is abducted by aliens while playing for Japan in the World Baseball Classic. The Mariners must then replace him in right field. And as their leadoff hitter.
The truth is, at this point in franchise history, the Seattle Mariners are built around Ichiro. Felix Hernandez may be the face of the pitching staff, but Ichiro is the anchor that keeps this team from floating into national oblivion.
Adrian Beltre is a great third baseman. But by late July, he'll likely be in another uniform. Yuniesky Betancourt still draws rave reviews from scouts who see him in a three-game series – but if he doesn't learn the game or how to prepare to play one, his future in Seattle is in doubt, too.
Then, there's Ichiro. He will, on occasion, take some heat here. He won't dive for a fly ball or challenge a wall on the run. He won't try to steal a base – no matter what the game situation – if he doesn't feel he has a clear advantage.
Yada, yada, yada.
What he does give the Mariners is something they couldn't replace if he weren't here. That's the definition of a great player, and the Mariners have one they're planning on keeping.
No offense, Japan, but an early-round loss in the WBC would certainly make the Mariners a better-looking spring team.
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