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Matt Calkins: What are the Mariners thinking? Keeping Ichiro is purely illogical

UPDATED: Tue., April 24, 2018, 7:30 p.m.

SEATTLE – So… are the Mariners going to bring Griffey back again? Maybe sign Randy Johnson to strengthen the rotation? Hell, if the price is right, they can probably lure Russell Wilson away from the Yankees.

I realize any one of these moves would be the epitome of illogical, but illogical is the new Mariners way. How else can you explain them sending Guillermo Heredia to Tacoma while keeping Ichiro on the roster?

Some of the M’s moves over the years have been curious, but this one is just embarrassing. There is zero justification for demoting a productive 27-year-old while keeping a near-fruitless 44-year-old.

I don’t know if this was a mandate from Mariners chairman John Stanton or an inexplicable decision from general manager Jerry Dipoto. Either way, M’s fans deserve better.

Do you remember the pre-spring media day three months ago, when Dipoto told the media that “we need some young players to step up”? A valid point, given their aging roster and the whole longest-playoff-drought-in-all-of-sports thing.

But Sunday’s decision was a direct contradiction to such a mentality, and one that left any rational fan bewildered. What exactly were they thinking?

Ichiro has had a negative Wins Above Replacement in two of his past three seasons, and entered Sunday’s game at -0.4. At the time of the roster move, he was hitting .212 with zero walks or extra-base hits. There’s a strong case that Ichiro shouldn’t be on any MLB roster at this point, an argument his numbers and the eye test would support. But to keep him over the budding Heredia? I drew blood scratching my head this hard.

I’m not saying Heredia is a future Hall of Famer, but he was hitting .310 with a .968 OPS at the time of his demotion. For context, that would have been the seventh-best OPS in baseball last year.

The Cuban is also a far more capable outfielder than Ichiro at this point in his career, which meets the “run prevention” M.O. that Dipoto and manager Scott Servais preach.

Dipoto didn’t respond to my text asking for an explanation, but he did speak with mlb.com. He said that the Mariners wouldn’t be facing a left-handed starter for 10 days, which is Heredia’s “niche.” He added that managing a 25-man roster “is more complicated than it seems from the outside” and that people “(don’t) realize the impact Ichiro has made in our clubhouse in one-and-a-half months in mentoring young teammates.”

Sorry, I’m not buying any of that. At this point, it doesn’t matter which arm a pitcher throws with, Heredia is the superior hitter. And given the veterans that permeate their clubhouse – from Felix Hernandez to Robinson Cano to Nelson Cruz – the Mariners are hardly starved for leadership.

The only reason the Mariners signed Ichiro in the first place was because Ben Gamel strained his oblique in the spring. They weren’t in search of sage wisdom for the up-and-comers.

I don’t want to bash Ichiro, one of the most iconic figures ever to come through Seattle. But I don’t feel bad saying that a 44-year-old lock for the Hall of Fame can’t help the Mariners win anymore.

If he were three hits away from 3,000, I could see the Mariners keeping him aboard. If he were putting extra butts in the seats, I could at least understand the rationale, even if I’d disagree with it. This, however, doesn’t make any sense.

I don’t know if this is a baseball decision or a business decision – but I do know it’s a bad decision.

The real problem, it seems, is that the Mariners didn’t have an exit strategy when they signed Ichiro. They had to know this day was coming, but it’s hard discarding a legend who will likely have a statue at Safeco Field one day.

Oh, well. You’re gonna have to do it eventually, Jerry.

Ichiro gave fans a lifetime of memories during his time in Seattle. Now, those fans want something else – wins.


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