The Mariners are screwing up their 2012 season already. Camp hasn’t even started at they’re already messing with the one certainty of their batting lineup by moving Ichiro Suzuki to the third spot, away from his usual leadoff post.
Why in the world would they want to do that? Ichiro has hit leadoff since coming to America ten years ago and has done an excellent job doing so. He has a .326 career batting average and a .370 OBP although his numbers did dip last season. In 2011, he only had a split of .272 and .310. It was also the first time in his career that he didn’t amass at least 200 hits.
The move really doesn’t make sense for two reasons: They don’t have anyone to replace him atop the lineup card and Ichiro isn’t the right type of hitter to bat third.
Let’s take a quick look at his possible leadoff replacements:
-Chone Figgins: He’s 34 years old, batted leadoff for the Angels earlier in his career and has been terrible since joining the Mariners. He hit only .188 last season in 81 games, missing the other half of the season injured. In his two Seattle seasons combined, he has hit a meek .236. He is – startlingly – the Mariners’ most likely leadoff replacement.
-Franklin Gutierrez: He’s a speedy centre fielder that is playing more for his defensive capabilities. He hit .224 last year with a .261 OBP. Not exactly a nice resume, but probably a better option than Figgins.
-Dustin Ackley: Pretty much set for the No. 2 spot in the lineup. He’s a good young prospect but will be better at driving in runs. He doesn’t really have leadoff man speed either.
-The others: Brendan Ryan is a journeyman and Mike Carp doesn’t have the speed either. Both are far more likely than Justin Smoak or Jesus Montero though.
Then there’s the question of why move Ichiro to the three-spot when he doesn’t fit there. He doesn’t have home-run power and he has not regularly displayed power to the gaps. If Seattle thinks that this is going to change at the age of 38, they must be crazy.
Ichiro is a slap-single hitter and shouldn’t try to change his style this late in the game. Seattle Mariners manager Eric Wedge shouldn’t be tinkering with the team to fit his plan; he should be adjusting his plan to fit this team.
So, when the Mariners open against Oakland in Japan, let’s just hope we see Ichiro getting the first at bat. I’m sure the fans out there will want to see that too.