Posted on May 4, 2018, by Bryan Zarpentine
Don’t call it a retirement, even if it feels like it. The Seattle Mariners announced Thursday that 44-year old outfielder Ichiro Suzuki will be stepping away from the field for the rest of 2018. Rather than serving as a reserve outfielder, Ichiro will serve as a special assistant to the team’s front office. He will travel with the team, but he will not be on the active roster. However, Ichiro playing in 2019 has not been ruled out. It’s worth noting the Mariners are set to open the 2019 season with games in Japan.
“We want to make sure we capture all of the value that Ichiro brings to this team off the field,” Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto said in a statement. “This new role is a way to accomplish that. While it will evolve over time, the key is that Ichiro’s presence in our clubhouse and with our players and staff improves our opportunity to win games. That is our No. 1 priority and Ichiro’s No. 1 priority.”
The plan is for Ichiro to serve as a mentor to the players and coaching staff during the rest of the season. He will be able to offer advice on hitting, base running, and outfield play. Of course, Ichiro has already done that for the Mariners during the early part of the season.
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“With Ichiro’s track record of success, his personality, his unique perspective and his work ethic, he is singularly positioned to impact both our younger players and the veterans in the clubhouse,” says Dipoto. “We really don’t want him to change anything that he’s doing right now, with the exception that he will not be playing in games.”
Technically, Ichiro was released by the Mariners on Thursday. Therefore, he can’t be added back to the active roster on a whim. Ichiro signed with the Mariners in March after three seasons with the Miami Marlins. He proclaimed last fall that he wanted to play until he was 50. However, he’s struggled to get going offensively while playing intermittently this year. He’s just 9 for 44 (.205) with no extra-base hits.
With everyone healthy, Ichiro is only Seattle’s fifth outfielder. Dee Gordon has made the move to center field. Mitch Haniger has claimed right field for his own with an excellent performance in April. Meanwhile, Ben Gamel and Guillermo Heredia are splitting time in left field. Even if there is an injury, there’s not much playing time available for Ichiro.
Of course, Ichiro and his agent, John Boggs, aren’t ruling out a return in 2019. Boggs made it clear that this is not a retirement. Instead, Ichiro is merely switching roles for the rest of the season.
“At this point, he does not intend to retire. Obviously, he will not be playing in 2018. But 2019 has yet to evolve,” Boggs said Thursday. “Seattle is where he wants to be and where he’s most comfortable. He’s very appreciative of them bringing him back. This was the most creative way to keep him within the organization and still give him an opportunity to play if that’s what happens in 2019.”
Of course, it’s possible that Ichiro has played his last game in the big leagues. If that’s the case, he’ll finish his major league career with 3,089 hits. With Ichiro, anything is possible. But if this turns out to be the end of his playing days, there’s no doubt he’ll go down in history as one of the all-time greats.