Right Fielder: Ichiro Suzuki #51
38 years old; Experience: 11 years
That should really be all that is necessary here. Because if you are a Mariners fan and you don't know who Ichiro is then you are truly hopeless. Your fandom cannot be salvaged and you might as well become a fan of the Houston Astros when they move into the AL West.
But what can be said about Ichiro and is a valid point is that 2012 is probably the most meaningful year Ichiro will personally have in his American career. 2011 was one of the worst years Ichiro has ever had by a long mile. At the age of 38, suddenly the samurai of slapping infield singles up the ying yang had his whole work ethic, abilities, and desire to win called into question. He relies so much on speed! He is done! The Mariners are screwed! No one will want to pay someone with that contract! All of these concerns have a valid point. Despite the fact he is eternally stuck in a state of "the best shape of his life", Ichiro is 38, and his playing style relies incredibly heavy on quick bat speed and legging out infield singles. Perhaps his decline has actually started.
Or you could also argue that Ichiro isn't exactly declining but just had a year of bad luck. His BABIP was the lowest it has been in a Mariners uniform and off his career mark of .351 by quite a bit. His ISO power numbers were also down quite a bit as well. This of course doesn't mean that he will necessarily rebound. It could truly mean that we are seeing the start of Ichiro's great decline. But until we have more data spread out over a couple of years, we can't really infer too much from it.
This year will also be an important year for Ichiro because for the first time since donning the Mariners uniform, Ichiro will not be leading off the line-up....for now. Eric Wedge has slotted him in the three hole which brings a whole lot of questions to the table. Ichiro claims to be able to hit for more power, and the Mariners are going to need him to be less of an infield single hitter and more of a line drive hitter. Early returns from Spring Training were favorable on the project. Last year he walloped 63 infield hits. This batting approach doesn't work too well when someone is on first. 2012 looks to be the year that Ichiro reinvents himself. If he doesn't, he will become an even larger drain on the Mariners payroll, which is an unfortunate way for a guy that has done so well to be thought of. Then again, sports players aren't known for quitting when they are on top.