The Mariners are bringing back Ichiro Suzuki, but the deal is primarily ceremonial for a season-opening series.
Ichiro Suzuki played 15 games in his return to the Seattle Mariners in 2018, before being released and moving into a special assistant role. But he did not retire as a player, and Bob Nightengale of USA TODAY has reported Suzuki is returning to the Mariners on a minor league contract.
Suzuki will go to spring training in Arizona, and if he makes the Mariners’ major league roster he’ll make $750,000. But there’s a deeper reason Ichiro will start the season in the big leagues.
The Mariners will open the 2019 season in Japan against the Oakland Athletics on March 20-21. They can carry 28 players on the roster for those games, so it’s a foregone conclusion Ichiro will play in his home country and bring his career full circle.
Right after last season general manager Jerry Dipoto said Suzuki would have a chance to earn a spot on the roster for those Japan games, but earlier this month it was confirmed.
Health will be the key factor for the 45-year old as spring training goes on. But the priority would be to make sure he can take the field in Tokyo, and there’s a chance he starts one or both games.
The Mariners have had another active offseason, as Dipoto has an itchy trigger finger when it comes to trades. Suzuki’s presence on the roster for the trip to Japan won’t block anyone from an opportunity as the team resets/rebuilds, and it’s safe to assume those games will be his walk-off as a player.
Suzuki is sure to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer, and there’s a chance he joins Mariano Rivera as a unanimous selection by the writers. At its core, playing two games in his home country to start the 2019 season will delay his Hall of Fame eligibility by a year. But this is a special situation everyone has had their eye as a proper send-off, and a proper celebration of Ichiro’s long, productive career.