Future Hall of Fame outfielder Ichiro Suzuki is transitioning from an on-field player into the role of Special Assistant to Chairman John Stanton in the team's front office effective immediately.
Ichiro will continue to be a presence with the team for the remainder of the 2018 season, but will not return to their active roster.
"It's been two-and-a-half months since I've come back and this is the happiest I've been in the 18-year career I've had," Suzuki said through his translator. "The past two months have been the happiest I've been. I knew one day that the day would come when I would have to walk away. But the Mariners have given me this opportunity to stay on. Obviously with my teammates and how great they've been and how much they mean to me and how much I want to help is the reason I wanted to stay on and help in any way I can."
Right-handed reliever Erik Goeddel has been added to the 40-man roster and called up from Triple-A Tacoma to take Ichiro's place on the roster.
“He’ll continue to prepare like he’s a player," General Manager Jerry Dipoto said. "You’ll see him out here taking batting practice and I feel like this transition it can occur in such an organic way it’ll never seem like he’s no longer playing until the game starts and he’s no longer in the lineup. I think being in that situation as a player, it’s the easiest way to transition forward as a player and it’s also the highest impact for your present teammates because players trust players. Ichiro right now is a player and in the minds of his teammates in that room he’s a player and that’s the way he can make the biggest impact on this team and on teams moving forward."
He can't be in the dugout during games but will assist the team's video staff and coaching staff wherever possible to aid the ball club.
"I can't say for certain that maybe I won't put on a beard and glasses and be like Bobby Valentine and be in the dugout," he joked.
Ichiro is not announcing his retirement from baseball with this move off the field. Ichiro will continue to have a locker in the clubhouse and will travel with the team everywhere they go for the remainder of the season.
"I just want it to be kind of organic, it grows, see where it fits in the best," manager Scott Servais said. "I am looking forward to just kind of sitting down with him in a different type of relationship now that he's not on an active roster and asking him questions and gaining some of his experiences and hopefully it helps me and helps the ball club out."
Added Ichiro: "When I start using a cane, that's a time that I think I should retire."
Ichiro's move off the field only covers the remainder of the 2018 season with his role for the future still to be determined. The Mariners open the 2019 season with two exhibition games and two regular season games against the Oakland Athletics in Japan. According to Ichiro's agent, via Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, the possibility remains that Ichiro could play for the team on that trip.
"It’s certainly not something we’ve closed the door on but it’s not something we’ve spent a whole lot of time addressing," Dipoto said. "That’s a good ways off. Eventually we will get there. ... We are staying open-minded in just about every way to 2019 and beyond but just want to stress we intend that to be as a Mariner."
The decision to move Ichiro off the roster was made on Monday in consultation with Ichiro, Servais, Stanton and Ichiro's agent, John Boggs. They all knew Wednesday's game against Oakland would be his last with the team for this season.
"You don't know quite how it's going to play out," Servais said. "You draw it up and as the game and the final inning unfolded, Ichiro was standing at the plate with a couple guys on base. And as he slapped the ball down the line... the coaching staff knew where we were at and you know it would have been nice if it would have snuck inside the third baseman there in fair territory.
"It didn't work out the way he hoped but he gave it everything he had."
Ichiro ranks 21st all-time in MLB history with 3,089 career hits, including 2,542 as a Mariner, after joining the team in 2001. After amassing 1,278 hits during a 9-year career (1992-2000) with the Orix Blue Wave of Japan’s Pacific League, Ichiro has totaled 4,367 between MLB and Japan.
Ichiro is one of seven players to collect at least 3,000 hits and 500 stolen bases in the Major Leagues, joining Lou Brock, Ty Cobb, Eddie Collins, Rickey Henderson, Paul Molitor and Honus Wagner.
Ichiro was named the MVP of the 2001 season and racked up American League Rookie of the Year honors and a Gold Glove in his first campaign in Seattle. He joined Boston’s Fred Lynn (1975) as the only players in either league to claim MVP and Rookie of the Year in the same season. The 2001 season marked Ichiro’s first of 10 consecutive seasons with at least 200 hits – a Major League record – including a single-season Major League record 262 hits in 2004.
"Ichiro is an important part of our family," Stanton said. "We hope and expect he will remain an important part of our family forever and we are excited on this day as he opens a new chapter in his involvement with the team that he will be doing that as a Mariner. And we would expect that he will forever be a Mariner."
Photo Credit: SEATTLE, WA - MAY 02: Robinson Cano #22 of the Seattle Mariners and Ichiro Suzuki #51 share a laugh in the dugout before the game against the Oakland Athletics at Safeco Field on May 2, 2018 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Lindsey Wasson/Getty Images)