Dipoto: Ichiro will be on Japan Series roster

Mariners get to carry 28 players for season-opening event in Tokyo

October 2nd, 2018
Ichiro Suzuki, Seattle Mariners special assistant to the chairman, smiles in the dugout before a baseball game against the Texas Rangers, Sunday, Sept. 30, 2018, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)Ted S. Warren/AP

SEATTLE -- While Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto says there are many questions to be answered as the upcoming offseason plays out, one answer is already known. will be on the Major League roster when Seattle opens its regular season in Tokyo against the A's in the Japan Series next March, as long as he is healthy.
Dipoto confirmed that likelihood Monday in a postseason gathering with the media, noting that the commitment presumably will be just for the two-game series in Japan on March 20-21, when the Mariners and A's can carry an expanded 28-man roster before returning to the United States to resume the regular season a week later.
Ichiro, who turns 45 later this month, posted a .205/.255/.205 line in 47 plate appearances in 15 games in April before coming to an agreement with the Mariners to remain with the team as a special assistant to the chairman through the end of the just-completed regular season.
Under that agreement, Ichiro couldn't play for the Mariners for the rest of the season and didn't take up a roster spot. But he worked out with the team and took batting practice every day, and he now intends to come to Spring Training next February to compete as a player again.
The 18-year Major League veteran has 3,089 career hits, 23rd all-time, with a .311/.355/.402 line in 2,651 games.
"Ichi will be in Spring Training with us, and we're going to give him an opportunity as both a coaching presence and a player presence," Dipoto said. "We're still a long way off from Opening Day next year, but you will see Ichiro taking at-bats in Peoria, and we'll assess where we are at that time. But don't be surprised if you see him running around out there when we get to Tokyo next year early in the season."
Dipoto places high value in Ichiro's role as a mentor for Mariners players as well as his history in the game, both in Major League Baseball and Nippon Professional Baseball, where he spent his first nine seasons in Japan with the Orix BlueWave.
"I would stop short of guaranteeing it, because we have to make sure he's healthy. But he'll be on our roster," Dipoto said. "We feel strongly that it's the right thing to do for our franchise and the right thing to do for the NPB and believe it's the right thing to do for Ichiro. What happens thereafter remains to be seen."
Dipoto said having Ichiro in camp and opening the year on the roster wouldn't limit any other players' opportunities because of the uniqueness of the Japan Series rules.
"We're talking about the two days that we've discussed," Dipoto said. "We don't have very many players internally that we need to add to the 40-man roster. We don't have anybody up for protection. A few guys that we're likely to add -- probably three that we'll add to our 40-man roster -- but we have quite a few coming off our roster, pending free agents and the like. So we'll have some roster flexibility.
"Additionally, the 25-man roster gets expanded to 28 for the trip to Tokyo only. So we get to carry three extra players just for that trip, so it doesn't take anybody's job or role away. It's a very flexible roster spot for us, and we think the right way to use one of those extra three roster spots is to honor Ichiro for what he's meant to this organization and what he's meant to baseball in Japan.
"And frankly, I wouldn't be shocked if shows up and winds up stumbling into a lineup and getting a couple hits along the way, because that's what he does."
Ichiro was in his final season in his initial stint with the Mariners in 2012 when they also opened their season against the A's in Tokyo. He went 4-for-5 in Seattle's Opening Day victory at the Tokyo Dome before going 0-for-4 in the second-game defeat.
Ichiro was traded to the Yankees later that season and joined the Marlins in 2015, but he returned to the Mariners last spring.