What to do with Ichiro...
I've been mulling over this post for a long, long time. I figure I better start writing things down and finish it before it's a) irrelevant or b) covered excessively elsewhere. Since b) can only get worse as the 2007 season rolls on, I'm going to get my thoughts down now.
In analyzing the Ichiro situation, and his impending free agency, it's relatively straightforward to take a simple approach -- look at scenarios and do a cost-benefit analysis of those scenarios. So, that's what I'm going to do here. I'll definitely further discuss my opinions in a later post or two, but for now I just want to make an attempt to lay down some simple framework.
Scenaro 1 -- Ichiro is traded during the season
Notes: For this to happen, it will have to become very, very clear that Ichiro wants to leave Seattle, and becomes very public or vocal about it. I'd be very surprised if this scenario comes into play, even though I could argue it may make the most sense for the M's.
- Ichiro's hitting, base stealing, and defense disappears.
- If LH major-league-ready bat doesn't come over in a trade, that's one more LH bat the M's need to add back into the lineup.
- Fans disappointed/angry/sad/annoyed, etc. (leading to potential significant revenue loss).
- Potential loss of other role players in an Ichiro + trade.
- M's lose a little more of the national spotlight, and their relevance, by losing a nationally-recognized Mariner (i.e. when some random Yankees fan in Illinois is asked to name at least one Seattle Mariner, I'd bet that fan would be most likely to name Ichiro, if he/she's able to name any M's player at all. We need to work more on the "Free George Sherrill" campaign).
- Adam Jones develops as the M's new CF, and adds a little more punch to the lineup.
- Ichiro would likely bring some big time impact players via trade -- players that would potentially fill more than one hole on the team.
- A possibly distracting situation is resolved.
Scenario 2 -- Ichiro stays the entire season, and leaves via free agency.
Notes: This is a real possibility, with Howard/Chuck and the rest of the M's execs very hesitant to trade their franchise player. It would also likely be the most painful for everyone but Ichiro. However, since this really would be one of the first times Ichiro would be a free agent , ever, I can see where he really honestly would like to at least reach free agency. I mean, think about it -- wouldn't you want to have the baseball resume Ichiro has, and finally be able to have a lot of control over your own destiny? It's Russian Roulette for the team, as it really could be tough selling Ichiro on this franchise's future. Especially if the front office turmoil that needs to happen, happens. But, of course, one could argue that a front office churnage would also encourage Ichiro to stick around. Especially if the manager's one of those casualties...
- Ichiro's hitting, base stealing, and defense disappears (in 2008 and beyond).
- Losing out on potential trade chips that could help the team.
- M's lose relevance and national spotlight even more (in 2008 and beyond).
- Another LH bat needed in the lineup.
- Ichiro helps the team in 2007, if they are close to a playoff race.
- Payroll flexibility, as Ichiro's not going to be cheap.
- Adam Jones inherits the CF job.
- Team would definitely offer arbitration, and get the draft pick(s) that Ichiro's departure could potentially help out in the future more than Ichiro can.
Notes: Right now, I'd say this is the most likely scenario, but, honestly, that's more of a guess than anything. Unless Ichiro truly wants out (which I don't think even he knows yet, but is still very, very possible), I think he stays in Seattle. The M's will give him plenty of money, and I'm sure he knows that, and I can certainly see where that might not be the best idea, too.
- Payroll. Lots of it. Ichiro's going to get a boatload of cash. He'd likely tie up around 20% of the M's payroll. That's a huge chunk, really.
- Potential trade of Adam Jones or other OF prospects (Wlad, Reed, etc...).
- Risk of aging effects. I would argue that Ichiro's more likely to buck the aging trends, but I still recognize that there's some real, significant risk in committing 3-5 years to a 35+ year old player.
- Flexibility. Sort of inherent in the payroll thing, because they do go hand-in-hand, but it could work to their disadvantage, too. If they're going to have a $100 million payroll from now on, is it in their best interest to give Jose Guillen 1/2 of what Ichiro would've gotten? By giving so much money to Ichiro, this answers that question a bit. But, it also could close another potential opening for a much needed power hitter.
- Losing out on potential trade chips that, combined, could help the team more than Ichiro himself could.
- M's keep some relevance and retain some national spotlight (in 2008 and beyond).
- Ichiro's hitting, fielding, running. While there's some risk of those skills diminishing, there's also a fair enough chance that they don't decline significantly. Especially if you consider Ichiro (as I do) a HOF-caliber player.
- One less LH bat to acquire.
- Fan satisfaction -- potential retention of revenue by having happy fans that don't overreact to losing yet another huge Seattle franchise star...