Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Ichiro Suzuki returned to his home country of Japan and promptly went 4-for-5 to help Seattle beat Oakland in Major League Baseball's Opening Day in Tokyo Wednesday.
So, does this mean Ichiro has reverted back to the international superstar who averaged .331 from 2001-10 and collected 2,244 hits in the process only now more fantasy-friendly because he's batting third?
What it means is Ichiro's trade value will never be higher.
Ichiro has always been an overrated fantasy outfielder, better in the real game than the fake one, more valuable to the Mariners than to your cleverly monikered roto club. That has never been more true, after he batted .272 with a puny .645 OPS last season and still managed to get drafted in the top 110 picks on average (Yahoo! ADP: 109) this season.
Meanwhile, you have a player like Cameron Maybin, who will turn 25 on April 4, being drafted outside the top 140 (Yahoo! ADP: 144).
In his first season with San Diego, Maybin showed signs that a breakout is on the horizon, hitting .264 with nine home runs, 40 RBIs, 82 runs and 40 steals.
Maybin had more doubles, triples, walks and homers, just seven less RBIs, and an OPS 71 points higher in 24 less games. Ichiro performed at an elite level in one category - steals - and even in that category Maybin managed to tie him with 40.
Ichiro did lead the league in one category last season: outs. He made 516 of them.
Hitting third, Ichiro will certainly have more RBI chances than when he batted leadoff, but how many more? Taking his place at the top of the order is Chone Figgins, who hit .188 with a .484 OPS in 81 games last season.
Meanwhile, Ichiro's run total won't see much of a change. Instead of having Dustin Ackley hitting behind him, he now has the black hole that is Justin Smoak and the untested Jesus Montero.
Plus, Ichiro may run less hitting third, but that remains to be seen. Just know that his 38-year-old legs may have a difficult time stealing 40 bases again. Maybin, meanwhile, is a lock for another 40-steal season.
Ichiro did display more pop in spring training, belting two homers in 30 at- bats, so he's a good bet to top 10 home runs for just the fourth time in his career. But based on his four-single debut, it doesn't appear he'll be altering his approach too drastically while hitting third.
Ichiro could have another .290 or .300 season left in his bat, like Derek Jeter last season, but I'd rather take that risk and go to fantasy war with a young player on the upswing rather than an ancient one who had such an extreme downswing last season and doesn't exactly play in a lineup conducive to explosive fantasy output. After all, the only reason Ichiro is batting third is because the M's don't have a better option.
Even if you aren't high on Maybin and own Ichiro, explore trade possibilities before Ichiro's OPS eventually slips under .750. Judging by his average draft position, there are plenty of owners who still view Ichiro as a starting outfield option.