On July 23—seemingly out of nowhere—the Seattle Mariners traded one of the greatest players to ever adorn teal and silver.
Future Hall of Fame inductee and single season hit king Ichiro Suzuki was shipped all the way to the third base line of Safeco Field, to play for the visiting New York Yankees and wear grey and navy blue.
The sight was unfamiliar and almost surreal as Ichiro stepped into the batter's box to face the team he spent his entire 12-year career with. The new Yankees' right fielder, wearing number 31, was still at home.
Perhaps not in his mind but certainly in the minds and hearts of his many fans.
The Yankees wrapped up their series in Seattle and Ichiro got on their plane. Once this reality set it, Mariners' faithful had to move on and accept the fact that he was gone.
And players had to get back to business as usual.
Although it came as a shock to many M's fans, Ichiro reportedly had asked to be traded weeks prior, specifically to New York.
Personally, I was surprised at first but then thought about the logistics and the trade made sense for both sides.
Ichiro is now 38 years old and in the final year of his contract.
His numbers have dramatically declined over the past two seasons, and while his stats were average at worst, they were extremely disappointing in the realm of Ichiro's norm.
I doubt he will come back to Seattle next year, if he chooses to return to baseball at all.
The Mariners haven't made a postseason berth since his rookie season of 2001, and Ichiro desires—and deserves—the opportunity to play for a winning team.
In return, the Mariners received two pitching prospects, right-handers Danny Farquhar and D.J. Mitchell.
For the remainder of the 2012 season, the Mariners now have greater ability to platoon some of their young players and get them big league exposure. The team is clearly rebuilding and an aging Ichiro didn't fit into the plan.
He wasn't going to help the team this year.
Not with his .261 average or even the simple fact that Seattle is in the cellar that even a 200-plus hit Ichiro couldn't bring them out of. It was the perfect time to trade him and acquire young arms.
Another negative from the trade is the likely immediate decline of revenue. Ichiro's presence in Seattle generated an enormous amount of income, both from ticket sales and jersey sales alike.
I'm a diehard M's fan but let's be honest, most of the people that attend Safeco Field are aware of only Ichiro and Felix Hernandez. That's about the extent of their knowledge of the roster.
There are over 76,000 Asian Americans in Seattle. Nearly 9,000 of them of Japanese descent, the largest minority group in King County. Ichiro was a god to all Mariners fans, especially those who shared an ethnic background.
Losing the revenue and support of the fans will hurt the franchise until they start winning, even though the team still has two Japanese players: much lesser knowns Hisashi Iwakuma and Munenori Kawasaki.
Apparently Ichiro's exit has had few ill effects on the team's play as the Mariners are 5-2 in seven games since the trade.
Maybe the team was unfocused? Maybe Ichiro was a selfish teammate? Whatever the case, the club's playing better, even if it was against the lowly Royals.
Seattle will save some money this season as well. The Yankees agreed to pick up $2.25 million of the $6.7 million Ichiro is owed this year.
Long-term, the Mariners can fully focus on rebuilding and integrating their young players into the majors soon and get them ready for everyday big league competition.
Once they dump Chone Figgins's ugly contract and tie up a few loose ends, Seattle can challenge the rest of the league. Their promising prospects should make them a competitive team in a handful of years. I'll say three at the most.
Long-term for Ichiro?
Maybe he wins a World Series in New York. Even though the Yankees are easy to hate, I will still be rooting for Ichiro to finally taste success and win a ring.
Perhaps Ichiro doesn't win a title in the Bronx.
He might bounce around the league for a few more seasons, reaching 3,000 hits at the age of 42 before riding off into the sunset, signing a one-day contract with the Mariners to retire with the team that brought him to America.
In a perfect world, Ichiro would return to the Pacific Northwest to end his career with a World Series title as a Mariner, but for now that's merely dreaming.
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