“Spring Training results are meaningless.” We hear that every March, nearly as often as “He’s in the best shape of his life.”
By and large, it’s true. Players put up awesome numbers in March, then fizzle out when the season starts. Or the reverse, of course, coasting through Spring Training with little to show, then having a career year when the games mean something. Winners of the Cactus and Grapefruit League titles rarely win the World Series.
It’s still early in Spring Training, but last year’s playoff teams have a combined record of 73-54. Over a 162 game schedule, that .575 record translates into 93 wins. Six of those ten teams had at least 93 wins last year. The Cubs and Yankees had 92 and 91 wins, respectively.
For what it’s worth, the five worst teams last year–the Reds, White Sox, Phillies, Giants, and Tigers–have a combined 26-36 record, the equivalent of 68 wins in the regular season. The 2017 Reds went 68-94, the White Sox were 67-95, and I won’t embarrass fans of the other three teams by quoting their records. No other team in either league had less than 70 wins.
I haven’t done the research to see if this is typical or a freak occurrence. But it does make one ponder the value of consistency. Dynasty by another name, really.
Moving on, slightly.
The Mariners (.481 last year, .417 in Spring Training thus far) looked to have one of the hottest–or at least fastest–outfields in baseball this year. They may yet, but thanks to some fan- and player-vexing injuries, it won’t be at the start of the season.
In need of help, they turned to the free agent market and picked up a 44-year-old left fielder out of Japan.
For a decade, Ichiro was the face of the Mariners. Gone for half a decade. Now he’s back.
I’ve got mixed feelings about the situation, as do many Mariners fans. We miss the Ichiro of the mid-2000s–but we know that’s not who’s joining the team. We thrive on nostalgia and swoon when a well-loved player returns and does well–but we remember the crash-and-burn ending to Ken Griffey Junior’s career.
There’s no question Ichiro can still perform at a major league level. Whether he can do it as an everyday player remains to be seen. We want–need–him to succeed. In theory, he only needs to play every day until the injured players come back. If that’s the way it works out, he should be able to slide back into a fourth outfielder/pinch hitter/late inning replacement role as he’s done with the Marlins and Yankees. But trouble comes in bunches, and there’s no telling whether everyone will come back on the currently-projected timetable.
If one can believe the newspaper reports from 2012, his trade to the Yankees came at his own suggestion, because he felt he could contribute more to the Mariners that way than on the field. If he can’t produce as an everyday player, that same ethic should lead him to retire rather than drag the team down. But that would be a tough choice for anyone, much less a man who wants to play baseball until he’s fifty.
And, of course, it would leave the Ms with an outfielder shortage again–but sometimes there is no good answer to a question.
So we hate the necessity of bringing him back, but love the fact that he’s here. The ovation when he steps onto the field on Opening Day in Seattle will, in all likelihood, rattle windows as far away as Mount St. Helens.
Go Ichiro. Go Mariners.