The Japanese team in the 2009 World Baseball Classic has named two players to its team – Ichiro Suzuki and Kenji Johjima – that the Seattle Mariners probably wish weren’t participating.
No, the Mariners won’t ask their All-Star outfielder or their slumping catcher to say ‘no’ to their national team. That doesn’t mean they endorse the choice, either.
It will be a surprise if Japan, the defending champion, doesn’t go deep into the games, and that means Ichiro and Joh will miss considerable time away from spring training.
Given that manager Don Wakamatsu and his coaching staff are new, and that their approach to the game will be different, that doesn’t help Ichiro, Johjima or the Mariners.
Wakamatsu, a former catcher, has ideas he believes can help Johjima become a better catcher and a better hitter – and Joh needs help with both after his ’08 performance. Catching for Team Japan might pull him back into old habits.
Ichiro, on the other hand, didn’t suffer much after playing in the ’06 WBC. He went on to bat .322 with 224 hits that season. Still, given the turnover on the field already, it will be a new Seattle outfield this spring, and Ichiro won’t be there for much of it.
Maybe that’s not all bad. Without Ichiro, the Mariners will get longer looks at young outfielders who didn’t figure to play as much in spring with him there. And without Johjima, Wakamatsu and his staff can work more with Jeff Clement and Rob Johnson – and probably get a good look at prospect Adam Moore.
Worst case scenario, of course, is an injury. And though either Ichiro or Johjima could be hurt just as easily in camp as in a WBC game, no team wants to see one of its players hurt doing anything somewhere else.
It’s far more likely all either player will lose is time in spring training. Almost certainly, they won’t be alone – Adrian Beltre and others may well play in the WBC.
This spring, for this team, however, that’s not what the Mariners want.