The Mariners, it would seem, are back. Not the Mariners organization, which has been stubbornly playing baseball games annually for over forty years now. Rather, what fans of a certain experience level and age think of as the capitalized, formal, “The Mariners”.
During the entire Jerry Dipoto Regime, we have been sold on a Grand Plan working towards some grand vision; a sort of seventy-five dimensional chess leading towards checkmating all the Friedmans, Lunhows & Epsteins that only the True Galaxy Brains could see. We’ve heard it over, and over, and over, how this team has rubric’d, and positive energy’d, and essential oiled its way from one of the worst farm systems into, erm, one of the worst farm systems and a major league roster with oodles of club control READY TO DISRUPT A $9 BILLION DOLLAR INDUSTRY.
I won’t go as far to say that after today that’s all over now. Jerry Dipoto is still the Mariners General Manager, and Andy McKay and Lorena Martin have barely had time to implement any of their ideas and philosophies. It’s foolish to try to guess the future, and far more so to try and predict it. But, faced with an offseason as pivotal as any in recent memory the Mariners have sat on their hands, and have only acquiesced to bolstering their depth after the fourth member of the hypothetical 25-man Opening Day Roster was lost to injury. To break their streak of near winter-long inactivity to acquire a 44-year old outfielder coming off a a 75 wRC+ and -0.2 fWAR is a comical, and definitive point: The 2018 Mariners are not serious about contending for a playoff spot. I have no insider information but I would frankly be shocked if this was a decision sprung from anyone in the Dipoto front office. This is a move catering to sepia-toned slideshows, begging for a voice over from James Earl Jones and directed by Ken Burns. It’s blatant, obvious, fan service.
And you know what? On a very real level I think it’s fantastic. Ichiro Suzuki is one of this organization’s five or six greatest players ever, and is probably only exceeded as an icon here by Ken Griffey Jr. That’s to say nothing of his status globally, where he is almost certainly the biggest star this franchise has ever had. The Mariners, that’s “The Mariners” again, have finally stepped out behind the mountainous pile of dung they’ve been flinging at fans for six months and gone for a straight, naked, common fan good will grab right through those fans’ hearts to their wallets. We’ve been crying for the Mariners just to do something fun, and this is indeed fun.
From a on-the-field perspective, well, there’s a few things to consider. The first is that Ben Gamel, whose injury likely was impetus for Ichiro’s return. like Ryon Healy before him, is probably not all that good even if healthy. If the oblique injury sidelines Gamel for longer than the 4-6 weeks currently projected, well, here is a thing for you to consider.
Last 215 major league plate appearances:
Ichiro Suzuku – 75 wRC+
Ben Gamel – 52 wRC+
Incredibly, despite the DECADES that separate their age, saying that Ichiro and Gamel are comparable defenders and baserunners may actually be too generous to GAMEL. Considering Guillermo Heredia’s rapid recovery from offseason shoulder surgery, Mitch Haniger having gone a full week without hurting himself, and Dee Gordon taking to centerfield in a promising manner, this will likely have a negligible impact on the won-loss record of the 2018 Mariners.
But the real takeaway is The Mariners are back, baby! In twenty-four days Ichiro, number 51 emblazoned in navy on the back of his pristine white home jersey, will step out onto the red walkway, and casually run out to an uproarious standing ovation from a gleeful sellout crowd. Hell, I just spent 500 words mostly making fun of this team and I may just change my plans to make sure I’m there among them.
Nothing about this news changes what we expect out the performance of the Mariners this year. But The Mariners have never been about capturing fans with success. We’ve all fallen in love with this stupid team for various different reasons, and we’re fortunate that baseball is a game that still allows enough space for those various reasons to co-exist.
We’d all love the Mariners to be poised to have breakout success in 2018, and it’s frankly fairly silly and, depending on your perspective, infuriating that instead they are dipping back into the safe, money-filled sea of nostalgia. But I’m choosing to be happy about it, and I can’t wait to see it. At a certain point, you realize most things in life have a healthy portion of love and hate mixed together. I’ve been hating on the Mariners all offseason. It’s time to find some of the love.