Posted on September 30, 2017, by Bryan Zarpentine

Ichiro Suzuki

Image via nytimes.com

Ichiro Suzuki won’t be the most sought-after outfielder on the free agent market this winter. But he may be the most eager and willing to sign with a team. As he finishes his third season with the Miami Marlins, the soon to be 44-year old says he’s nowhere near done playing baseball. Speaking through a translator on Friday, Ichiro said he’d like to play until “at least 50,” and he’d like to stay in Miami if possible.

“There’s no reason not to be back,” Ichiro told reporters. “It’s definitely a place I would want to be.”

Ichiro has played the role of Miami’s fourth outfielder throughout the season. He has started just 23 games in the outfield. But he’s appeared in over 130 games, primarily as a pinch-hitter. His numbers aren’t spectacular, hitting .259 with an OPS of .659. But he’s been an important contributor to the Marlins coming off the bench. In fact, with two games left in the season, he’s one pinch-hit away from tying John Vander Wal’s single-season record of 28 pinch-hits.

“You get judged by your numbers and what you’ve left behind when you leave this game,” Ichiro said of the record. “I think everybody in here would want to (break the record) because we’re all professionals. We’re all trying to do something and leave a mark on the game. I have an opportunity now to do something that can leave something behind. I think it’s a great opportunity.”

If not for Miami’s outstanding outfield of Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, and Marcell Ozuna, there may have been more playing time available for Ichiro. But he was able to adjust well to a part-time role, accruing more than 100 fewer at-bats than he did in 2016.

“He could definitely play more than he’s played this year, for sure,” said Marlins manager Don Mattingly. “I use him in all three spots. … You trust him anywhere you put him on the field. He’s an amazing guy. (Ichiro wouldn’t) play six, seven days a week, but for him to play three days a week I think is something that’s conceivable.”

Of course, while Ichiro would like to re-sign with the Marlins, with the team under new ownership, it’s uncertain if the Marlins want Ichiro back. On one hand, the Marlins may want to rebuild to get younger, which could push Ichiro out the door. However, the Marlins don’t have any outfield prospects that are knocking on the door, so Miami may prefer to bring back Ichiro rather than take its chances on the other outfielders on the free agent market.

It’s also possible that the Marlins could look to trade Stanton, Yelich, or Ozuna this winter. Such a move could create more opportunities for Ichiro if he returns to Miami. He’d be unlikely to be a full-time player, but it would certainly be easier for Ichiro to get at-bats if one of those outfielders were moved during the offseason.

Whether Ichiro is back in Miami next season is difficult to predict. But he’s hitting .310 with an OPS of .789 since the all-star break, so it’s obvious that he can still be a productive player on a major league bench. He’s still a long way from reaching 50. But there should be little doubt that Ichiro will be on a major league roster in 2018.

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