According to a source of Ken Davidoff of Newsday, Ichiro Suzuki will explore free agency this winter. He will be "selective," which seems to rule out lousy non-Mariner clubs. The source said that Ichiro would’ve signed with the Ms last winter had they made a solid offer. They’ve yet to do so.
As Davidoff mentions, Ichiro is one of the Big Three center fielders who may be available after the season. The other two are Torii Hunter and Andruw Jones. How do they compare?
Their ages for the 2008 season: Jones will be 31, Hunter 32, and Ichiro 34. Looking at offense, any team would clearly prefer Jones. He should remain a force into the forseeable future, posting .350 OBPs and .500+ SLGs. While more reliant on batting average than walks, Ichiro can match that OBP. Of course, he won’t slug much over .400. Hunter brings a lower OBP but more power than Ichiro, and probably has an edge offensively.
Most fielding experts would place Jones well above Hunter in terms of defense, but it’s unclear where to rank Ichiro at this point. I’m sure any team considering a long-term offer to Ichiro is scouting his center field defense carefully and applying advanced grading systems.
Ichiro has the biggest fan appeal, though Jones may be a draw in his own right. In terms of simply the most desirable player over the next four or five seasons, I rank them Jones, Hunter, and Ichiro. I know power isn’t Ichiro’s game and all that, but he still needs to be compared to Jones and Hunter in that regard. We haven’t seen many signs of it, but it’s possible Hunter adds some more walks to his game as he ages. We’ve seen that with Jones.
The second tier contains Mike Cameron, Corey Patterson, and Eric Byrnes. Cameron is the best of those despite being the oldest. However, he may be off the market within a couple of weeks. Click here to take a look at the rest of the free agent CFs.