Busy Ichiro still expected to rejoin Mariners

Winter Meetings have different feel; Seattle pursuing relief

December 3rd, 2020

SEATTLE -- It’s been pretty quiet so far this winter for the Mariners and most Major League teams. But that doesn’t stop us from pondering the Hot Stove possibilities and letting our minds wander ahead to warmer spring days. Here are three things on my mind this week:

1) The latest on Ichiro
When Ichiro Suzuki announced his retirement after the Mariners’ second game of the 2019 season in Tokyo, the venerable veteran said one of his future goals was to help coach young players in the game he loves.

Now Ichiro is getting his wish -- as are some lucky youngsters in Japan -- as the Asahi Shimbun newspaper in Osaka reported that the former Mariners star is planning to help coach a high school team in his homeland.

But don’t worry. That doesn’t mean Ichiro is changing his plans regarding the Mariners, where he’ll continue in his role as “special assistant to the chairman.” General manager Jerry Dipoto confirmed this week that Ichiro indeed is expected to rejoin the Mariners and continue helping coach and advise the club at Spring Training in Peoria, Ariz., assuming things are back to normal in February.

The 47-year-old was working with the Mariners outfielders and hitters this spring until camp was shut down by the pandemic. With the coaching staff limited in numbers when action resumed with Summer Camp in July, he returned to Japan and has been working out and keeping in shape.

Ichiro was quoted in The Mainichi, another of Japan’s national daily newspapers, saying he’s doing a tougher workout regimen now than when he was playing in the Major Leagues.

"I realize that I can make drastic changes [physically] depending on how I use my body," he said.

As if we’d expect anything less.

2) No meetings, no moves ... yet
If not for the pandemic, Dipoto and the rest of the Mariners’ brass would be heading to Dallas on Sunday to take part in next week’s Winter Meetings with the rest of MLB’s movers and shakers.

Instead, any moving and shaking will be done virtually this year. How big a difference will that make in today’s world, where most deals are done via text or telephone anyway? Hard to say, as this winter has been quiet so far as teams sort through financial issues created by last year’s shortened, fanless season. Like most MLB teams, the Mariners have yet to sign a Major League free agent or engineer any trades.

By the time the Winter Meetings began last year, Dipoto had already traded catcher Omar Narváez to the Brewers, acquired lefty Nestor Cortes Jr. from the Yankees and signed free agents Carl Edwards Jr., Kendall Graveman and Patrick Wisdom.

A year earlier, Dipoto had traded Robinson Canó and Edwin Díaz to the Mets, Jean Segura to the Phillies, Mike Zunino to the Rays, James Paxton to the Yankees and Alex Colomé to the White Sox before heading to the Winter Meetings.

This winter never figured to be that busy, as the Mariners’ young makeover is now largely in place. But not gathering together at the Omni Hotel in Dallas as normally would occur removes another impetus for all MLB teams to make deals, though Dipoto doesn’t think it’ll have that big an impact.

“With today’s technology, it’s not as complicated as 20 years ago,” he said. “We’ve been in contact with all the clubs, the same type of conversations we typically have. It’ll probably slow down our actions in some regard because you don’t feel the impetus, or rush, that you might when you’re sitting down across the coffee table. You’re checking in via Zoom calls or phone.

“But there’ll be trade action. We’ve had our conversations. There’s still some general uncertainty in terms of roster size and target dates and what the Minor Leagues will look like. So we do have some small hesitations, but otherwise, we’re just doing it all virtually instead of in person.”

3) What a relief it is
When Dipoto does get active, he’s expected to add several experienced relievers. While he certainly isn’t the only GM focusing on bullpen help this winter, it does appear to be a good time to be in that hunt, given the surplus of experienced arms on the market. There are 13 free-agent relievers with 50 or more career saves on their resume, which is notable for a Mariners club that has no reliever on its current roster with more than three saves.

While many of those closers are likely too old for the rebuilding Mariners to consider, there is a good-sized group of experienced middle-inning and set-up types available as well, and that number grew on Wednesday when 23 more relievers were non-tendered by teams looking to avoid arbitration.

The Mariners could be interested in a few of those newcomers, including former D-backs closer Archie Bradley and the Angels’ Hansel Robles. Matt Wisler, who worked as one of the Mariners’ openers with some success two years ago, is another possibility. The 28-year-old right-hander was non-tendered by the Twins after posting a 1.07 ERA in 18 appearances in 2020.

The Mets snapped up one of the more intriguing free agents on Tuesday by signing former Twins right-hander Trevor May to a two-year, $15 million deal, removing the Kelso, Wash., native from the pool. It’ll be interesting to see if May’s signing helps set the relief market and gets things going, or if that was an outlier move by new Mets owner Steve Cohen and the waiting game will continue.