The Miami Marlins are on such a roll this offseason, even their complementary acquisitions have cachet.
Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich make up what might be the best outfield in the majors, and they can expect to play a lot this season (barring injury), so the Marlins could have gone with a nice, serviceable, under-the-radar addition to plug into the fourth spot. Something like a Nate Schierholtz, perhaps, or an Endy Chavez or Eric Young. Or maybe they could have just rolled with Don Kelly or Tyler Colvin, two lefty hitters signed to minor-league deals with invitations to big-league camp.
Instead, the Marlins have filled their bench void with Ichiro Suzuki, a 10-time All-Star and Gold Glove Award winner who is 156 hits short of the 3,000 hit club and 134 hits shy of Pete Rose's professional record of 4,256. Suzuki is 41 years old, so this signing is roughly equivalent to bringing in Mick Jagger for a stint as tambourine shaker and backup vocalist.
If Suzuki wants to keep playing because he's on the verge of reaching some hallowed milestones, that doesn't necessarily make him single-minded or selfish; it makes him human. If he's not ready to retire and a team values his skill set enough to sign him, more power to him.
The more salient question is: Will he give the Marlins enough production to warrant their $2 million payout? And how much does he realistically have left in the tank?
His iconic stature in Japan notwithstanding, Suzuki has always elicited mixed feelings in the baseball community. Admirers laud him for his work ethic, longevity and lengthy string of achievements. But scouts who've watched him send balls into the seats in batting practice through the years wonder if he sacrificed power and run production in his tireless quest to collect singles and doubles. Yes, it sounds unfair, but Wade Boggs and Tony Gwynn were subject to a similar critique on their way to winning a combined 13 batting titles.
The same pro-and-con arguments have applied to Suzuki's impact on the overall team dynamic.
"You hear both opinions," a National League talent evaluator said. "You talk to people in Seattle, and it's, 'Selfish. Entourage. All about Ichiro.' Then you talk to people in New York, and they say, 'Constant professional. Accepts his role. Good teammate. Best friends with [Derek] Jeter.' They tell you [the Marlins] will have no problem."
Fresh off a .664 OPS in 385 plate appearances in New York last season, Suzuki didn't have an abundance of options as a free agent. Sources said the Marlins had to be convinced he would accept a part-time role before making a commitment to him. In the National League, Suzuki will have more opportunities to pinch hit or enter games in late-inning double switches. But he still might be looking at 200 or 250 at-bats this season.
If age wasn't a factor in the Marlins' deliberations, it was because Suzuki is a freak of nature with a routine all his own.
"We talk about guys who withstand Father Time," an AL executive said. "This guy doesn't get injured, and he takes tremendous care of himself with how he goes about everything. It's so structured and so perfect. His running ability hasn't dropped off, and his baseball intelligence is still extremely high. It's hard to really pinpoint what you're going to get, but is he capable of hitting in the .280 range, providing a stolen base threat and above-average defense? No question."
Suzuki stole 15 bases in 18 attempts with the Yankees last year and logged a plus-1 (with zero being average) in Baseball Info Solutions' Defensive Runs Saved calculations. Scouts say he is cautious around walls and has an aversion to laying out for balls, but he still throws with enough accuracy and zip to keep opposing baserunners honest.
"It's not an 8 arm anymore, but it's still a 6," an AL talent evaluator said in reference to the 20-80 scouts scale. "It's a plus."
The Marlins should find out early in spring training if Suzuki has permanently discarded his old "diva" reputation and is ready to blend with the positive clubhouse atmosphere manager Mike Redmond cultivated in 2014. In the meantime, his addition to the roster is in keeping with the aggressive approached displayed this winter by Michael Hill, Dan Jennings and Miami's front office.
The Marlins signed Stanton to a $325 million extension in November and have since added Dee Gordon, Martin Prado, Michael Morse, Mat Latos and Dan Haren (provided he sticks with his intention to show up at spring training, after being traded to Miami from the Dodgers) to the mix. For the first time in a while, national reporters who pass through Jupiter, Florida, in the spring might be tempted to drop by the Marlins' half of the Roger Dean Stadium complex before gravitating to the St. Louis side.
Although the Japanese community in South Florida is meager enough that a 41-year-old Suzuki might not qualify as a gate attraction, the signing removes the Marlins from one unenviable baseball list: Once Suzuki appears in his first game with Miami, it will leave the Cincinnati Reds as the only major league team to never have suited up a Japanese player.
For Miami management, Suzuki's potential fan appeal and pursuit of 3,000 hits and Rose's record 4,256 are mere sideshows to the main event. If he accepts his limited role and contributes enough singles, doubles, timely steals and glovework to help the Marlins win a few games, they'll consider him worthy of that $2 million investment.