So I tried to pitch this to Agent Steinz over at the Sports Bog, and he heard me and thought someone else had done it better. And indeed, they did a fantastic job of compiling Ichiro quotes, but what about the "Ichiro is Gilbert Arenas of MLB" angle? This will be in 2 parts, as the quirky anecdotes section will probably be a bit long.
Both Ichiro and Gil are due for huge free-agent contracts in a very short time. Ichiro is looking to cash in big at the end of this year, and has raised speculation that he might command up to 20 million dollars per season. Where could Ichiro be heading? He very well may stay in Seattle, who has shown some playoff potential this year, but is nowhere near being the force they were in 2001 when Ichiro joined them. ESPN's Buster Olney speculates that Ichiro could be signed by the Chicago White Sox, while bandying about the Braves and Rangers as other teams in the market for a CF. It's hard to tell what will happen right now because Ichiro isn't talking to the press. That puts the Mariners in a bind. If they are still contending, do they keep him in the hopes that he stays or do they trade him to get some much-needed pitching? If they keep him and he leaves, all the Mariners get is a compensatory draft pick, and that is no even deal. My guess though, is that the Mariners keep him and then ante up the big bucks to re-sign him this winter.
Gilbert, on the other hand, has been anything but coy. This past weekend he sent shockwaves through the NBA (and the blogosphere) by announcing that at the end of the 2007-08 season, he would opt out of his contract (rather than extend it) and become a free agent. Right now in the NBA a phenomenal guard is one thing every team is after. Even though the Spurs just won with great inside play, the Suns and Warriors set the tone that fast, uptempo guard-based play is incredibly marketable. And with his quirks (next post) and sometimes superhuman abilities, Agent Zero will command top dollar. The catch? He probably won't go anywhere, saying that this decision is purely a business one to get him the most money possible and a six-year deal.
Ichiro and Gilbert are in similar situations when it comes to their teams as well. Both are playing for teams that have shown a little spark, but generally are below elite level. For the Mariners of the past few years, that is an understatement. They sucked, pure and simple. Because of their roles as superstars, both have played essentially the same role for their teams. Ichiro hasn't been a vocal leader, but his on-field performance has kept the Mariners somewhat respectable. Some of his highlights have been his record 262 hits in 2004 (also earning the AL batting title that year, going .372), his streak of 6 consecutive 200 hit seasons, and his streak of 45 consecutive stolen bases. His play was always something to tune in for.
Gilbert hasn't played on a team quite as bad as the Mariners (the Wizards have been to 3 consecutive NBA playoffs), but he has helped make the team what it is. Throughout the nation, people tune in to see Gilbert play. There is always the potential for a game-winning buzzer-beater or some spectacular 3-point shooting. In addition, Gilbert has a great court vision and spectacular control of what's happening at all times. When he was injured this year, the Wizards began collapsing (albeit they were also missing fellow All Star Caron "Tough Juice" Butler) and couldn't avoid being swept by the LeBron James-led Cavs in the 1st round of the playoffs.
It's obvious that both players are the cornerstone of their teams. Without either play, each team could have easily sunk into obscurity; losing fans and revenue along the way. Both players are key to bringing in ticket sales, and both represent the public faces of their franchises.
Part 2 is coming shortly, keep checking in. And let me know what you think in the comments...