Marlins trade could mean more time for Ichiro
If Miami makes outfield move, veteran could have ample chances to reach 3,000-hit milestone
MIAMI -- If the Marlins decide to shake things up and trade Marcell Ozuna for a starting pitcher, they will once again depend on a reliable, ageless wonder to help fill the outfield gap.
Ichiro Suzuki, who turned 42 on Oct. 22, is an internal option to share playing time at any of the three outfield spots, so if there is an opening, look for the 10-time All-Star (who is just 65 hits shy of 3,000 hits) to get a shot.
Even if Ozuna stays, chances are Ichiro will get plenty of playing time.
Miami was struck hard by injuries in the outfield this past season, and Ichiro ended up appearing in a team-high 153 games.
"I have a huge amount of respect for Ichiro down in South Beach," new manager Don Mattingly said. "His work ethic, the way he goes about it. So I'm looking forward to that. I think he's going to be a key component for our club and our clubhouse, and to be part of our development."
One of Mattingly's challenges will be monitoring just how much to use Ichiro. He will be entering his 16th big league season, and his production tailed off down the stretch last season.
When Ichiro signed his extension for 2015, the Marlins reminded him that he was brought in to be the fourth outfielder, not to be counted on daily. But his playing time increased early when left fielder Christian Yelich went on the disabled list with a back injury.
In the first half, Ichiro's role expanded, and he batted .253 with a .307 on-base percentage.
On June 26, right fielder Giancarlo Stanton broke his left hamate bone, and he didn't return. In early July, Ozuna was optioned to Triple-A New Orleans and was in the Minors for about five weeks.
Down the stretch, Ichiro started to wear down. In 69 games after the All-Star break, he batted .208 with a .260 on-base percentage. Ichiro had 234 plate appearances in the second half, compared to 204 in the first.
Ichiro finished the year with a slash line of .229/.282/.279, with 91 hits in 398 at-bats.
Now with 2,935 hits, Ichiro is tied for 33rd on MLB's all-time hits list with the man who is MLB's all-time home run leader, Barry Bonds, who is Miami's new hitting coach.
Ichiro's pursuit of 3,000 hits will be one of the Marlins' most anticipated storylines in 2016.
"For me, I'm looking forward to that," Mattingly said. "I've always been a fan. [I saw] him in his early days in Seattle, when I was coaching with the Yankees. It was really fun to watch."
Should Miami make a move and deal Ozuna, the club is not intending to make Ichiro an everyday outfielder. Unless the Marlins sign or trade for a regular, they likely will use matchups and combinations in the outfield.
Derek Dietrich could wind up seeing regular time in left field, with Yelich moving to center field. Cole Gillespie is internal option, as is non-roster invitee Justin Maxwell.
No matter the combinations, just the idea of having Ichiro and Bonds working on the same team is something Mattingly is looking forward to.
"I haven't thought of it in those terms, but let Barry and Ichiro talk," Mattingly said. "I'll just try to do the managing thing."