Jay Buhner, the man Ichiro Suzuki replaced in right field for the Seattle Mariners more than a decade ago, doesn't want to see his old team sign him to a contract extension this offseason. Ichiro might be putting together a Hall of Fame career, but Buhner has seen what everyone else has during the past season-plus: Suzuki is in decline, he turns 39 in October and he'll be expensive to bring back.
"I'd vomit,'' Buhner said. "I mean, really, no offense. No offense, we've got to get this organization turned around. You can't be spending all the money on one guy.''
That's pretty blunt while also being pretty funny. Now, Buhner hasn't played since 2001, he doesn't work for the Mariners (other than casually in a public relations capacity) and he probably doesn't have the ear of GM Jack Zduriencik. He also admitted in the interview that he hasn't really watched the Mariners closely this season and (I believe) it's possible he's resentful in some way (even subconsciously) toward Ichiro. So we can't give too much weight to Buhner's opinion, even if he's still super popular in the Pacific Northwest. But, throwing up aside, his reaction brings up a great point. What should the M's do with Ichiro?
He's finishing up a five-year, $90 million contract, and there's no way someone hitting .260/.288/.351 is worth $18 million a season, even if his defense remains sharp. Even at $10 million a season for, say, three years (this is what got Buhner sick to his stomach), the M's aren't getting their money's worth in production if Ichiro continues like he has. There are more things to consider, of course:
• Nintendo owns the Mariners and Ichiro's face is important to the team as it markets the Pacific rim. People still presumably tune in back home in Japan to watch him play. It's worth something.
• Public relations at home. Ichiro remains popular with fans at Safeco. Maybe not as popular as Ken Griffey Jr. or Edgar Martinez or even Buhner, but popular. And while his down seasons aren't helping the M's win, he's not the only reason the franchise struggles. The M's lineup is full of Jack Z acquisitions who aren't panning out (yet). They've had seven managers over the past 10 years. Simply dumping Ichiro, or severely low-balling him in contract talks, won't be appreciated.
• Tying both of those things together, Ichiro is about 475 hits short of 3,000 for his major-league career. Based on his career average, he'd be a good bet to get there by age 41 or so. But at the rate he's regressing, it would take several seasons more of simply hanging on to get there. But if the Mariners believe Ichiro can rebound to be at least be an average ballplayer, it would be tough to pass up the chance of being his team as he counts down to 3,000.