In 2015, 41-year-old Ichiro Suzuki will be entering his fifteenth season of Major League Baseball and his first with the Miami Marlins, after spending the first nine seasons of his professional career over in the Japan Pacific League.
Suzuki spent his first 11 seasons, and a large part of his 12th, in America with the Seattle Mariners after he was purchased from Japan's Orix BlueWave with a winning bid of $13,125,000 on November 30, 2000. He didn't miss a beat transitioning to Major League Baseball, after successfully reaching base in 41.9% of his 4,098 plate appearances with the BlueWave.
The long-time Mariner managed to earn a spot on the American League All Star team, as well as record over 200 hits, for ten consecutive seasons from his first appearance in baseball in 2000 all the way up to 2010. Additionally, Suzuki set the record in 2004 with the most hits all-time in a single-season with 262.
Being traded to the New York Yankees in the Summer of 2012, Suzuki saw his first postseason action later that year since making it all the way to the 2001 American League Championship Series, 11 seasons prior.
The left-handed hitter has nothing but positive thoughts and gratitude towards his third Major League team and the upcoming season:
"I think what I wanted most was just the warm feelings that the Marlins gave me. Like everybody knows, the people that came over to Japan to the press conference (did so) so it wouldn't be tough on me to have the physical done in Japan. They are accommodating for me in the fact that here in spring training they'll have a facility for me to have my (Pilates) machines here. In Miami, also the same thing. To accommodate the things that are very important to me as a player.
There was nothing that came in my way that I didn't like or would say no to, and that's a big reason why I'm here."
— clarkspencer (@clarkspencer) February 26, 2015
Suzuki was signed to be Miami's fourth outfielder, behind Christian Yelich in left, Marcell Ozuna in center, and phenom slugger Giancarlo Stanton in right, on January 27, 2015. While Ichiro may be disappointed that his career has fallen from once everyday outfielder to the bench, he still remains respectful by accepting whatever role is assigned to him.
"Obviously I understand and will accept that role, but if you look back at last year I was the fifth outfielder. So we'll see how it goes."
In 2013 and 2014 with the Yankees, Suzuki's playing time, and subsequently his offensive numbers, significantly dropped in comparison to year's past. For instance, he only produced 102 hits last season in 2014 under the "fifth outfielder" role, his lowest hit total in a professional season since he only had 12 as a 19-year-old in Japan. Perhaps Ichiro's 2015 season in Miami will continue to follow this trend, unless consistent playing time is somehow allotted his way.
Ichiro Suzuki didn't have to enter a situation of decreased playing time, however. He could have signed with the Phillies for more money and guaranteed playing time, following the expiration of his contract with the Mariners/Yankees at the end of the 2012 season.
According to ESPN's Buster Olney, the Phillies reportedly offered Suzuki a two-year deal worth $14 million, which was turned down when he accepted a $13 million, two-year deal to re-sign with the Yankees.
As Ichiro signs with the Yankees, he'll be turning down a two-year, $14 million offer from the Phillies.
— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) December 13, 2012
As Matt Gelb of The Philadelphia Inquirer speculated, the Phillies' 2013 lineup featuring Ichiro may have looked like the following:
1. Ichiro 9
2. Michael Young 5
3. Chase Utley 4
4. Ryan Howard 3
5. Carlos Ruiz 2
6. Jimmy Rollins 6
7. Domonic Brown/Darin Ruf 7
8. Ben Revere 8
The Phillies needed a viable outfield replacement to fill the voids of the departed Juan Pierre, Hunter Pence, and Shane Victorino from the 2012 team. With Suzuki off of the boards, they opted to instead sign the American League Championship Series MVP from the most recent postseason at the time in 2012, Delmon Young.
Young was signed exactly 40 days following the Suzuki news on January 22, 2013. However, Young's struggle to field routine plays in the outfield, and his inconsistency on offense, led to his eventual release later that season in mid-August.
Table 1: Ichiro Suzuki's Career Statistics vs. National League East
|New York Mets||13||56||51||7||19||0||0||1||9||3||1||3||6||.373||.400||.431||.831||22|
As a member of the Marlins, Ichiro will finally get to play at Citizens Bank Park after all. Believe it or not, Ichiro has not appeared in a non-Exhibition baseball game in Philadelphia since the Vet was in use. In three games at the City of Brotherly Love, Suzuki batted .357 (5 hits in 14 at-bats), with a double and two runs scored.
Table 2: Ichiro Suzuki's Career Statistics at National League East Stadiums
What could have been different for the 2013 Phillies, had Ichiro Suzuki jumped on board alongside future Hall of Famer Michael Young, former National League Most Valuable Players Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins, and even their rotation assets in Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee? Sometimes it's fun to say 'what if?' and speculate, however the reality and what actually occurred cannot ever be changed.