At 38-years-old, Ichiro Suzuki is not getting any younger. He’s at an age when many ballplayers start hearing the whispers of retirement circulating, but then again, not many ballplayers keep themselves in the kind of shape Ichiro does either.
Still, the questions needs to be asked: how much longer can he keep going?
Ultimately, the decision may be out of his hands? Ichiro comes into the 2012 season, his 12th with the Mariners, in the final year of his contract with Seattle. With a $17 million price tag in hand and the Mariners seemingly in a phase of rebuilding from within, the 10-time All-Star may ultimately find himself on the outside looking in. The Mariners could certainly use the salary relief to pursue other needs and Ichiro may have a difficult time taking a severe pay cut to stay with a team that may not see the fruits of their labors until well after he is gone.
So what becomes of Ichiro if he and the Mariners part ways after 2012?
This is a man of immense pride, so there is no doubt that Ichiro is fully aware of the fact that he needs just 572 more hits to reach 3000 career in MLB. Coupled with his 1242 in Japan, we’re talking about a player that had he played his entire career here, would likely be challenging Pete Rose’s record for career hits. Think about that for a minute; Ichiro has collected 2428 career hits, or 220 hits per year, for 11 seasons. Still, it is hard to imagine him trying to cross that threshold while suiting up for another team after meaning so much to the city of Seattle over the years.
So is it really unfeasible to think that Ichiro could retire at the end of 2012? His 2011 numbers showed the first real signs of decline, marking the first season that he missed hitting either .300 for the season or accumulating 200 hits. His WAR (Wins Above Replacement) took a nose-dive from an average of 5.49 to -0.4. His move out of the lead-off spot will do no wonders for him in 2012, but it was a necessary move for the Mariners, especially after watching his On Base Percentage dip to .310.
If Suzuki were to walk away after the 2012 season, it is difficult not to consider him a Hall of Fame candidate. He has been the sole, consistently successful hitter to come from the Japanese leagues to Major League Baseball, birthing a whole new era for the game and its fans. Here are just a few of the notable career accomplishments:
- 10-Time All-Star
- 10-Time Gold Glove Winner
- 2-Time Batting Champion
- One of only two players to win Rookie of the Year and MVP in the same season (Fred Lynn).
- Single Season Hit Record (262)
- 16th in Career Fielding Percentage amongst outfielders
So does he go in the Hall of Fame? You bet he does.
Does he get to 3000 hits in order to cement that status? That depends on what he and the Mariners can work out.