On the same page: Marlins, Ichiro equally eager for upcoming possibilities
The Miami Marlins front office entered this offseason — like it does any other — aiming to build its deepest 25-man roster possible.
After revamping the infield and adding depth to the rotation, it still sought a fourth outfielder to back up Gold Glover Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna and two-time All-Star Giancarlo Stanton.
Instead of settling with a journeyman, the Marlins took advantage of the market and signed future Hall of Famer Ichiro Suzuki to a one-year deal.
How this evolves remains to be seen. But based on Wednesday night’s declarations, both sides see no reason why it can’t work out.
"When I met these team executives yesterday, I felt the incredible enthusiasm, so my feelings then were that I somehow really wanted to respond to their enthusiasm, and I believe that was something I have been looking for the last two years," Suzuki said via a translator during a press conference held in Tokyo. "I am needed by this great organization as a player, but that’s the most important aspect to me, and that’s a very good driving force for me to be a player for this team. Now what I need to do is prepare for this great season I’m entertaining and also try to finish this press conference as calm as possible."
Suzuki, a 10-time All-Star, 10-time Gold Glover and three-time Silver Slugger, is a former American League Rookie of the Year, Most Valuable Player and batting champion. He is 156 hits shy of 3,000 for his MLB career, which spans 14 seasons.
Past this year, who knows where Suzuki will be? In 2015, he will serve a bench role with the Marlins, who hope they’ve added another invaluable piece to a postseason-bound club.
"You know you can never predict what’s going to happen over the course of 162 games," Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill said via teleconference from Tokyo. "We wanted to create the deepest 25-man roster that we possibility could, and when you can add one of the all-time greatest Japanese players ever to play a game, it just made so much sense for us.
"We’ll get into spring training, and obviously [manager Mike Redmond] has been a part of this whole process, but we spoke to Ichiro — and unless there’s an injury — we’ll use him in various ways to try and keep him sharp and get him as many at-bats as possible."
During the press conference, Suzuki admitted that "the numbers and records are important," and yet they "aren’t everything." He has yet to win a World Series.
Is there concern that the 41-year-old, who has appeared in at least 161 games in eight of his 14 seasons, can adjust to his new role? Over two full seasons with the New York Yankees from 2013-14, he averaged 147 games.
No, because Miami let Suzuki and his representatives know from the beginning its expectations for the organization’s first Japanese-born player.
Hill, Redmond, general manager Dan Jennings, owner Jeffrey Loria and president David Samson presented Suzuki with explanations on how they valued him and what use he could be for the team. He was onboard from the beginning.
When both parties spoke, Suzuki had clearly done his homework. He discussed the club’s existing outfield corps, statistically one of the best in baseball. He knows what he has joined in South Florida, 7,452 miles from home.
There hasn’t been talk about how many starts he will get. Still, Miami is determined to get creative in keeping him sharp and receiving enough at-bats.
Suzuki can play all three outfield positions, so spot starts when Yelich, Ozuna or Stanton needs rest are likely. He will be a left-handed pinch-hit option. In limited opportunities, he is 13 for 43 (.302) with seven runs and two RBI. He can also double switch and pinch-run late in games.
"For him to be the true professional that he is and have the results and the career he has had, I think it says a lot about his character and his ability," Jennings said.
Added Samson: "From our standpoint, the No. 1 thing he brings is the player he is. It’s a bonus the type of quality person he is, it’s a bonus that he is a Hall of Famer and a Japanese player. But the way we evaluated him was he would give us the best chance to win as many games as possible. … It’s all about making our team better this year, and that’s what we’re here for: to play in October, and we feel he gives us the best chance to do that."