Ichiro is a month from his 44th birthday, coming off a season in which he was limited to a bench role for the Miami Marlins. No one would blame him a bit for calling it quits on an incredible career. And yet it sounds as if we can expect the future Hall of Famer back in 2018.
Ichiro told reporters Friday that not only does he intend to return next year, he would like to play until he is, “at least 50.”
This is not the first time Ichiro has spoken about playing until the big 5-0. He said the same in March, joking that he’ll “die” when he’s forced to retire.
The question now is whether Miami, or another team, will be interested in giving him a job. The Marlins hold a $2 million team option for Ichiro in 2018, but there’s no guarantee the team will deem him worth even that meager commitment. Ichiro is hitting only .259/.322/.337 in 2017 — good for a 43-year-old but not so great for a corner outfielder with little remaining value in the field or on the bases. According to Baseball-Reference, Ichiro has been below replacement level this year.
Still, Ichiro is only a year removed from a pretty solid 2016 season, and he’s clearly at least a little pop left in his bat.
It’s certainly fun having Ichiro around. He keeps adding to his 3,080 career Major-League hits, and every once in a while he sets a cool record, like becoming the oldest player ever to play center field. At the moment, Ichiro has 27 pinch-hits this year, one shy of John Vander Wal’s single-season mark, and he sounds quite enthusiastic about tying or breaking the record.
“You get judged by your numbers and what you’ve left behind when you leave this game,” Ichiro said. “I think everybody in here would want to [break the record], because we’re all professionals. We’re all trying to do something and leave a mark on the game.
“I have an opportunity now to do something that can leave something behind. I think it’s a great opportunity.”
So the Marlins will have a choice to make on Ichiro this offseason, but given that manager Don Mattingly seems to love him, that new team owner Derek Jeter played with him and that he comes cheap, it seems likely he’ll be back in Miami. Then he’ll have only five years to go until he reaches 50.