The last few years of a franchise icon’s career can be hard to watch. Like watching Ghost Rider for Nicolas Cage fans. Or the Expendables for Sylvester Stallone fans (although, why you’d ever be a fan of Stallone is beyond me but I digress…).
As a fan, you want to walk up to them and explain how sad you are to see them performing at a level that is so far below what they are capable of. Yet deep down in some minuscule portion of your heart and in some hidden part of your brain you come to realize that this new level of performance is all he/she is capable of.
And then you cry.
You lose control because someone who you for so long saw as perfect has finally been shown to be imperfect. Like the rest of us. Just like your next-door neighbor who never picks up his cigarette butts so that months later (after weather does its thing) they find their way onto your front lawn, leaving you to do it.
Well, maybe not quite that bad.
And so it is now for those out there who call themselves Ichiro fans. This does not include me as I have always been partial to outfielders who slug more than .400 and drive more than 50 runs.
But for the vast number of Ichiro fans out there, it is a tough time. The time really began last summer and will continue through 2012 as it becomes ever more apparent that not only is their idol done as a superstar baseball player but also as a Seattle Mariner, the team he has played for for all 12 years of his MLB career.
After hitting a career worst .272 last season with 184 hits in 161 games, Ichiro will find himself permanently removed from the leadoff spot for the first time in his career.
Change was needed. He had an OPS of .645 for crying out loud.
Don’t expect the change in batting position to suddenly spark a change in hitting approach in the 38-year-old.
Speaking to media members just days ago, Ichiro inferred as much:
“I think it’s tough to change your hitting style just because you’re in a different spot. So it’s difficult to say if my hitting style would change.”
Even if he does change his approach, it will be hard for the perennially slap-hitting star to become a gap-driving power hitter. Instead, expect more of the same from last season. A hitter that will hit about .270, walk very little and play porous defense in right.
His move in the batting order (he will now hit third at least to start the season), coincides nicely with entering the final year of his 5-year, $90 million contract signed back in 2007. The Mariners not only are trying to find a lineup that will maximize its offensive output but also trying to maximize the value they can squeeze out of a man they are paying $18 million this season.
If Ichiro is unable to show the ability to thrive in the three hole and follows up his putrid 2011 season with more of the same this year, fans shouldn’t be surprised to see Ichiro entering the offseason more likely to retire than return as a Mariner.