Last night, while I was asleep, I received an email from a Mr. Doodigian. I was thrown by the fact that I was receiving correspondence from someone so clearly and curiously using an alias, but the body of the message said that Ichiro and Munenori Kawasaki had just begun their offseason training program in Japan. The story led the sports segment in the Japanese news, which, man, bummer for other sports.
Kawasaki was evidently going on and on about how much he wants to play for the Mariners. Remember, he's that guy. He's the Japanese shortstop who said that he only wanted to play for the Mariners, and that he'd be willing to sign a minor league contract. Anything to give him the opportunity to share a field with Ichiro. For a while, it's basically been a foregone conclusion that the Mariners would give Kawasaki a look.
And now it sounds like Kawasaki and the Mariners have an agreement. From the AP:
Japanese infielder Munenori Kawasaki says he's been invited to spring training by the Seattle Mariners.
"I'll be going to Arizona in February to compete for a job," he said Thursday.
There hasn't been an official announcement, but Fernando Rodney told the press he'd signed with the Rays days before it was confirmed that he'd signed with the Rays, and it stands to reason that Munenori Kawasaki would have a pretty good idea of what's going on with Munenori Kawasaki. He wouldn't say what he said and be wrong unless he has literally the worst translator on Earth. Expect the Mariners to say something soon, after they complete all the necessary paperwork or whatever. It's not like they have to have a real sense of urgency with this one.
Kawasaki will go to camp on a minor league contract, and he will battle for a backup infielder job with Luis Rodriguez and some group of others. He isn't thought to be capable of starting, but he doesn't need to be capable of starting, since the Mariners already have Brendan Ryan and Dustin Ackley(!) in the middle. In camp, Kawasaki will cherish his time with Ichiro. If he's good enough, he will break camp and spend more time with Ichiro. If he's not, he will spend time with Jarrett Grube and try to earn a promotion.
As far as your expectations, remember, Kawasaki is 30, and here's what he's done in Japan:
Meanwhile, the Yankees just failed to reach an agreement with a 29-year-old Japanese shortstop who's done this:
That second one has been a much better hitter. The Yankees weren't too impressed. Kawasaki's supposed to be strong in the field, but there's a chance he won't be able to hit Major League pitching. At all. There's a chance he could have the bat knocked right out of his hands. Then it wouldn't matter how many grounders he can swallow up.
But there's also a chance that he'll be able to hold his own and hit something like, I don't know, .270/.300/.330, which would make for a useful backup when combined with a glove. There's also a chance that he could do better than that. It's hard to say, which is the whole point of bringing him in. There's no risk, so the Mariners might as well see. Maybe Kawasaki is something. Maybe he is not. There's no downside in looking for the answer.
Ichiro's around. Kawasaki's around. Hisashi Iwakuma could be around, soon. The Mariners still have an advantage when it comes to Japanese imports. The Mariners will probably always have an advantage when it comes to Japanese imports. Yay for the Mariners.