There's a pragmatic part of our brains that tends to shut off intermittently during the offseason. Even though we inherently know the sequence of moves doesn't matter, watching other teams make moves at their own, similar pace feels like getting lapped. Sitting in the right lane while car after car creeps by. Logic and reason exits when 29 teams turn into one, a flurry of moves can irrationally become player after player the Mariners have missed out on. Essentially, it feels like the competition vs. the Mariners.
That's certainly been the feeling around a lot of fans after seeing Matt Kemp go to the Padres, Melky Cabrera sign with the White Sox, and other free agent names get snatched up. There's a significantly smaller amount of perceived options available to fill right field now, which has turned into the obnoxious "hurry up" side of minds winning the internal struggle once again. I've been guilty of it occasionally, taking a step back from the Mariners missing out on Melky Cabrera to wonder just how they're going to fill this self-inflicted outfield hole. Melky seemed like an obvious solution. Now? There are options, just not as straight up.
There's still months of offseason left, and there will be players traded who weren't previously viewed as available. Did anyone think Jordan Zimmerman or Ian Desmond were available as a package? They were just offered (and declined) to the Mariners in exchange for Brad Miller and Taijuan Walker. The sneaky blockbuster possibilities still loom. There are still intriguing free agents, and a bevy of platoon options to get solid, low-risk production out of right field.
Still, as more and more names come off whatever the perceived board is, more and more people will start to mention Ichiro Suzuki as an option to return, manning right field for the 2015 Mariners. They'll point to how bad the outfield was last year, they'll claim he's better than Endy Chavez, they'll play the nostalgia card, and they'll cite how close he is to 3,000 hits. They'll argue he'll put butts in the seat, and that a reunion would make everyone happy. It's likely that you either agree with all these points, or vehemently disagree with each one. I side with the latter.
The Mariners made this mistake once, bringing back Ken Griffey Jr. for another ride after a semi-successful return to Seattle, all things considered. His second tour of duty ended with abrupt failure, a retirement in the middle of the night, a wave of emotion that brought back all the memories of Junior's first perceived betrayal to this city.
They reunited with Raul Ibanez for his age 41 season, and it was also mostly a success. Ibanez had his best offensive season since 2010, and the Mariners were once again faced with an opportunity of whether to bring him back for another year or let him walk. This time, the Mariners let him walk, at age 41, and he promptly posted an wRC+ of 61 in 2015, being reduced to the coveted "clubhouse veteran" role for the Royals in their playoff push.
Age comes for everyone, and Ibanez and Junior were no exception. Ichiro is still plugging along, but the Mariners already saw age come for him. If Ichiro hadn't fallen off tremendously in 2011, who knows how long he might have carried on in Seattle. His offense bounced back a little in 2012, but much of his overall value still came from his defense. 2013 was even worse than 2011, as he posted a career low 71 wRC+. The offense mildly bounced back in 2014 with an 86 wRC+, but he only posted a 0.4 WAR through 143 games.
At this point, aged 41, Ichiro's upside is to match 2014's production at the plate. The defense won't be any better, and his UZR was his lowest since 2011, actually grading out as negative for only the second time in his career. The fans scouting report at Fangraphs reports declining arm strength, and the speed and range, as only natural, is declining.
The downside is that he's done completely, and 2015 could be an end that should have already occurred. Ichiro's bread and butter is making contact, and that's something he's becoming less than awesome at. A career high K% of 17.7% -- up from 11.4% the year before -- throws up a red flag, and another decline to an 84.4% contact rate throws up another after hanging around 90% for most of his career. Both declines are the worst years of his career.
Additionally, though Ichiro has never had much power, now it's disappeared completely, as his 2014 .056 ISO was also a career low. His fly ball rate of 19.7% is also way down, and only one fly ball left the yard last year.
Even though Steamer projects Ichiro to have a 0.3 WAR through 405 PA, that generously affords improvements in contact rates, power, and defense. When the cliff comes, it can come hard and fast -- we've seen that with Griffey and Ibanez, most recently.
Present all this, and you might still hear the "he's better than Endy Chavez" argument. And that might actually be true, except that Chavez isn't getting more than a minor league deal, and a lot of things have had to go wrong for him to play as much as he has over the past two seasons. It also might not be true, as Chavez is 36 and hasn't shown declines in key offensive areas like Ichiro. If Endy Chavez starts another ~80 games for the Mariners in 2015, they haven't done enough.
It's not just a question of ability, which points to Ichiro being barely replacement-level at best, and totally cooked at worst. It's also a question of pandering to nostalgia, something that the Mariners haven't exactly shied away from over the past decade. Want Ichiro to get 3,000 hits as Mariner? If he gets enough PA to amass the 156 hits he needs, something has gone horribly wrong and Ichiro has miracously become a much better hitter than he has been. In 555 PA in 2013, Ichiro got 136 hits. Last year, in 385, he got 102. It isn't happening on a team that's trying to win it all. Ichiro also isn't going to suddenly give some boost to attendance if he's a bench player. Who's buying tickets to see a game in which Ichiro may or may not get in as a defensive replacement?
If the Mariners are serious about winning, they'll aim higher than Ichiro, even if it means taking a flier on somebody who at least has a small chance of breaking out or bouncing back. As a baseball decision, bringing him back even as a fourth outfielder would be borderline indefensible. From a sentimental standpoint, watching another Seattle legend return to pick off scars that haven't quite healed yet would be sad.
2011 isn't that long ago, and the memories of Ichiro falling apart at the plate in Seattle are buried in a shallow grave. The memories of the good years should be left alone, unclouded by another year of disappointing contributions.