Takeaways from the 2016 MLB Winter Meetings

Aside from the mid-season trade deadline that sees numerous players changing squads with the hopes that they might be the final piece needed to push any given team into the postseason, the Winter Meetings are the busiest time of year for trades and signings to take place around Major League Baseball. mlb

In the past, some of baseball’s biggest deals have taken place during the Winter Meetings (it was the 2007 meetings when the Tigers picked up Miguel Cabrera). But while the 2016 Winter Meetings that took place in National Harbor, Maryland, didn’t have nearly as much action as some of the previous ones, there were still some huge transactions that will vastly affect teams when the 2017 season begins.

Following the signings of big-time free agents Yoenis Cespedes and Carlos Beltran over the past couple of weeks, the Winter Meetings began on Sunday evening, with many rumors swirling around as to what would take place over the course of the five day event. But over time, as always, fact was quickly distinguished from rumor.

Things kicked off with the signing of Matt Holliday by the New York Yankees on a one-year, 13 million dollar deal. While the acquisition doesn’t immediately jump off the page as all that great, it’s still an impactful one. The seven-time All-Star can play a variety of positions, and can still hit with the best of them, knocking 20 homers in 2016.

MLB: Washington Nationals at Philadelphia PhilliesOn the opposite side of the spectrum is Mark Melancon, who is one of the best at limiting homers, giving up just three total over the course of 71.1 innings last season. For his efforts, Melancon was grabbed by the Giants for the next four years at a price tag of 62 million. After saving 88 games over the last two years, Melancon certainly earned it, and San Francisco appears to have found their closer.

It also appears that Melancon will come in handy for the Giants, as their long-time rivals, the Dodgers, were successful in resigning Rich Hill on a three-year, 48 million dollar deal. After being virtually on his way out of the sport at one point, Hill posted a 2.12 ERA last season, and would likely be the Dodgers’ ace if not for Clayton Kershaw. Still, he sits as one of the best pitchers in the game.

Offensively, it became apparent that the Blue Jays were looking into other options other than Edwin Encarnacion following their signing of Kendrys Morales a few weeks ago, but it became even more so with the addition of Steve Pearce for 12.5 over the next two years. Pearce doesn’t have nearly the power of some players, but his bat is still one that can impact any given game, despite not being a huge move.

However, just as it seemed that the Winter Meeting were going to be a bit slow, with just a few above average deals, the Red Sox decided to take things up a notch. Following a trade for reliever Tyler Thornburg from the Brewers in exchange for Travis Shaw, Mauricio Dubon and Josh Pennington, Boston made the biggest splash of the offseason to this point.

Reaching deep into their farm system, the Red Sox sent away highly coveted prospects saleYoan Moncada and Michael Kopech, along with Luis Alexander Basabe and Victor Diaz, in return for Chris Sale. If Sale can keep up his dominance that’s made him one of the best pitchers in baseball, the Red Sox could win the division with ease in 2017. But as has been seen in the past, baseball is extremely unpredictable.

Nearly as uncertain is a player’s health from any given season to the next, and Wilson Ramos is a prime example of that. After beginning 2016 on a tear, Ramos suffered a season-ending injury this past season, but hopes to be ready to go sometime around the middle of 2017. Whenever he arrives with the Rays, who signed him to a two-year, 12.5 million (18.5 with incentives) dollar deal, he’s sure to make his presence known.

Wade Davis is also sure to make a big difference for the Cubs, as if they needed any more help. After winning the World Series for the first time in 108 years this season, Chicago picked up lockdown reliever Wade Davis from the Royals in a trade that sent Jorge Soler to the Royals. With Aroldis Chapman winding up with a team away from Chicago as the Winter Meetings progressed, Davis could come up big in 2017.

But while teams such as the Red Sox and Cubs were focused on rebuilding their major league lineup, there were those like the White Sox who made huge improvements to their farm system. After receiving quite the hall from the Red Sox in the Chris Sale deal, the Sox proceeded to pick up Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning from the Nationals, losing just Adam Eaton in the swap.

Many see this as a vastly one-sided deal, with the Nationals getting the short end of the stick. But after losing out on Chris Sale and Mark Melancon, the Nationals were undoubtedly looking to add an impact piece and were all in to get Adam Eaton. They may regret it in the short term, but in the long term things may work out in their favor.

desmondOne player who didn’t have things work out quite the way he had been hoping was Ian Desmond, who agreed to a five-year, 70 million dollar contract to play in Denver. After struggling mightily in 2015, following a turndown of a 7-year, 102 million dollar offer from the Nationals in 2014, Demsond really broke out again in 2016 with the Rangers.

The Rockies could use some offense (among other things), and Desmond adds a big piece to their improving lineup, despite not getting the contract he could have received just a few seasons ago.

The final big transaction made on the final day of the Winter Meetings saw Aroldis Chapman going back to the Yankees for five years and 86 million dollars. Coming off his help with the Cubs in their World Series title quest in this season, Chapman has long been known as a devastating pitcher, with his 102+ mile per hour fastball. It will be interesting to see how the Yankees fare in 2017 in what has become a competitive division, but with Chapman locking down the ninth, anything is truly possible.

But while some teams such as the Yankees, Red Sox and White Sox left the Winter Meetings with their teams very different from when things began, with others doing hardly anything at all to improve their club, it’s important to keep in mind that there are still over 16 weeks left until the 2017 season begins.

The shaking up of teams this offseason could possibly be far from over.

Surprisingly Good and Bad Performances from 2016

In baseball — much like in life — surprises can be really good or they can be really bad. A good surprise in baseball might be a player or team having an unpredicted breakout season, while a bad surprise may be defined as a team or player destined for great things having a below average year. The 2016 season has had plenty of both throughout the entire stretch.

With just over a week left until the last games of the season leading up to the playoffs, a lot has taken place that can be deemed as good surprises or bad surprises. Having said that, I wanted to take the time to go over six hitters, six pitchers and six teams who surprised the baseball world in good or bad ways, keeping in mind that it is by no means a record of all the players who fit each category, nor is it the very top options in some cases. It’s simply a broad overview meant to recap the season as a whole.

HITTERS

Surprisingly Good: Brian Dozier, Brad Miller and Adam Duvall

Over the past several seasons, Brian Dozier has been one of the best second basemen in all of baseball. However, this season, he has broken out as arguably the best second baseman in baseball. With a previous career high of 28 home runs coming last year, Dozier has been even better this season, having knocked 42 so far — the most in American League history for a second baseman. Despite the Twins having the worst record in baseball, Dozier has been a huge surprisingly bright spot in Minnesota.miller

On the same theme, Brad Miller has been the biggest standout on the Rays, with the exception of All-Star Evan Longoria. Hitting 30 homers to this point in the year, Miller has blasted more round-trippers this campaign than he had over the past three seasons (343 games) combined. For that reason, Miller has been a great surprise to Tampa Bay. Whether Miller will be this type of player moving forward or is simply having a career-year, there is little argument that he wasn’t expected to be this good when the season began.

The final player on my list is Adam Duvall. After winning a World Series ring with the Giants back in 2014, Duvall has spent the last two years in Cincinnati, where he has turned out to be an extremely productive player. After playing in just 27 games last season, in which Duvall managed to hit just 5 home runs, this season has seen Duvall breaking out to record 31 blasts. It surely was surprising to see Duvall break out in the way he did, but it certainly was of the good surprise variety for the Reds and their fans.

Surprisingly Bad: Mark Teixeira, Jason Heyward and Bryce Harper

Mark Teixeira announced earlier this season that 2016 would be his final year, but he’s not going out with a bang as many of baseball’s greats have before him. Unlike his fellow retiree David Ortiz, who has recorded one of the best years in baseball history for a player 40 or older, Teixeira hasn’t been able to hit even a mere .200 and has notched only 13 homers and 38 RBI’s in 2016. Following 2015, in which Tex managed 31 homers, his year has definitely been a bad surprise for the Yankees. Even so, he is still one of the best players in recent baseball history, having hit over 400 homers in his career.heyward

When the Cubs signed Jason Heyward to an eight-year, 184 million dollar contract leading up to this season, he was obviously expected to put up All-Star numbers for Chicago. However, he has somewhat surprisingly been pretty horrible, quite frankly. Only managing to record seven home runs and a .230 average, Heyward has yet to get things going, now nearly six months into the season. Given, Heyward can turn things around with the playoffs looming, but it would take a lot for that to happen where things stand now.

Bryce Harper’s 24 home runs and 82 home runs would be a great season for any number of players around Major League Baseball. But by Harper’s standards — set last season with his MVP-earning 42 homers — Harper is having a surprisingly bad year, seeing his batting average drop nearly an entire 100 points from a year ago. There have been rumors that Harper has been playing through an injury all season long, but that’s being denied by Harper. Whether or not it’s true, Harper — who was expected to be in the running for a second straight MVP — is still having a surprisingly down year by all accounts.

PITCHERS

Surprisingly Good: Kyle Hendricks, Tanner Roark and Steven Wright

Part of a rotation that includes the likes of Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks has surprisingly been the best pitcher of the Cubs’ entire rotation. Over the course of 28 games started for the Cubs, Hendricks has notched a mere 2.06 ERA — the best in all of baseball. By doing so, Hendricks has helped to lead the Cubs to the best record in baseball and what looks to have all the makings of a postseason run. Although it’s yet to be seen whether or not this is actually the year for the Cubs, it has certainly been the year for Kyle Hendricks.roark

Tanner Roark has been an average to above average pitcher for the Nationals over the past few years, but this season Roark has truly broken out. Holding a 2.70 ERA over 200.1 innings pitched, Roark has kept the Nats push towards October strong, despite the loss of Stephen Strasburg for a good chunk of the season, and inevitably the final several weeks. It very well may come down the Roark’s ability to keep his surprisingly good performance going in order to keep the Nationals going deep into the postseason.

I’ve been bringing up the name Steven Wright all season long, and for good reason. Despite being a knuckleballer, Wright has been one of the top surprises in terms of pitchers this season for the Red Sox. Although his historic start to the season has slowly dwindled away as the year progressed, Wright’s 3.30 ERA is still good enough to make this list. Although he is currently working to battle his way back from an injury, Wright has still recorded enough innings to prove himself to all of baseball that he is a true weapon moving forward.

Surprisingly Bad: Chris Archer, Shelby Miller and Zack Greinke

Chris Archer broke out in 2015 to be one of the best pitchers in all of baseball, and was set to be the Rays’ ace moving into this season. But after getting off to a poor start to begin the year, Archer hasn’t been able to get much of anything going with only one more start remaining. The strikeouts are still there, as he has produced over ten strikeouts per nine innings on the year; and with the Rays’ poor collective season, Archer’s 19 losses are somewhat deceiving. But his 4.02 ERA can’t be ignored, especially following his Cy Young eligible season last year.miller

Being traded to the Diamondback’s this past offseason in exchange for Dansby Swanson, who has gone from 2015 first overall draft pick to star in the big leagues, Shelby Miller has been one of the biggest surprises in all of baseball this year. Having never recorded a full-season ERA above 3.74 heading into this year, Miller has posted an ERA of 6.47 over 19 starts. Following Miller’s 3.02 ERA with the Braves last season, many expected Miller to help get the Diamondbacks back into the postseason, but he has been virtually no factor whatsoever.

Joining Shelby Miller as part of the D-back’s rotation, Zack Greinke was expected to help make their rotation one of the greatest in the majors. After all, with Greinke posting a historically-low 1.66 ERA with the Dodgers in 2015, he was all but guaranteed to be the number one starter for the D-backs. But this is baseball, where nothing is guaranteed and anything can happen from one year to the next. As such, Greinke has put up his worst ERA since back in 2005, notching a 4.37 ERA for his efforts in 2016.

TEAMS

Surprisingly Good: Marlins, Mariners and Indians

I didn’t know what to make of the Marlins heading into the 2016 season, but they truly surprised me in a big way. Dealing with the losses of star players such as Dee Gordon and Giancarlo Stanton at various points in the season, for drastically different reasons, many expected the Marlins to fade away early on. But they’ve hung in there all season long, sitting five games back of a wild card spot. Inevitably, there aren’t enough games remaining for the Marlins to wind up in the playoffs, but to still be in the discussion at this point in the year is remarkable.mariners

Things are coming down to the wire for the Mariners, and they may not have enough in them to make the postseason for the first time since 2001, but they had a year that shocked a lot of people. With Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager all having great seasons at the right times, Seattle was able to beat a lot of teams around baseball that many felt would give them trouble. As such, they easily made my list. They may or may not make the postseason in 2016, but things are looking positive all of a sudden for them to finally get there in 2017.

Many people felt the Indians would be as good as they have been this year, but I wasn’t as convinced. I simply thought the World Series defending Royals and the always good Detroit Tigers would keep Cleveland from being relevant in the month of September. But to my surprise — as well as the surprise of some people who felt the same way I did — the Indians are sitting atop the American League Central. If they can keep things going into the playoffs, they may not be done surprising people as the postseason plays out.

Surprisingly Bad: Rays, Braves and Twins

A lot of people actually picked the Tampa Bay Rays to win the American League East division this season, with their rotation being the key to that happening. However, with Chris Archer having a rough year along with several untimely injuries, the Rays haven’t been able to come close to realizing their predicted potential. With only a week to go, the Rays are in sole possession of last place in the American League East. With the division strong once again, it remains to be seen if the Rays can turn things around in 2017 and beyond.braves

It took the Braves forever to win a single game this season, and once they finally recorded one in the win column, they still weren’t able to get much of anything going. Losing 91 games to this point in the year, the Braves are promising that 2017 will be the year things turn around, with them getting a shiny new ballpark across town. But if the Braves don’t turn things around next year in a big way from this season, their ballpark could easily turn out to be the bright spot in the entire season when all is said and done.

Much like the Braves, the Twins’ season was over before it even got started. When the final game has been recorded, the Twins will have more than likely lost 100+ games after finishing four game over .500 last year. Following that breakout performance for the Twins, many people felt that they would be able to keep it going into this year. But it wasn’t meant to be, as the Twins have been one of the worst teams in recent baseball history. Although they could easily turn things around in 2017, all hope is lost for this year.

Marlins’ Playoff Chances Without Stanton Still High

It’s been said countless times, both on this blog and around the baseball world: If Giancarlo Stanton could stay healthy for a full season, he could hit 45+ home runs. The problem? Stanton has never been able to stay fully healthy for a whole year throughout the length of the majority of his entire career, proven once again recently by his latest injury that’s going to force him to sit out the rest of 2016. Stanton

The most games Stanton has ever played in came back in 2011, when he took part in 150. Since then, Stanton has missed 249 possible games with the Marlins, leaving them without his immense power for an extended stretch.

In 2014, Stanton missed the final two weeks of the season after getting hit in the face by a pitch. Then, last season, Stanton lost out on an entire three months after breaking his hand. Given, Stanton can’t avoid freak injuries such as those, but it’s certainly not the amount of playing time the Marlins were looking for when they signed him to a 325 million dollar contract.

Stanton’s latest season-ending injury takes him from the Marlins just as they are in a race for the second Wild Card spot. Now, without Stanton and his team-leading 25 home runs and 70 RBI’s, many people are simply dashing any chance whatsoever of the Marlins making the postseason.

But I’m just not convinced.

Yes, the loss of Stanton is very impactful. Hitting anywhere from 24 to 37 home runs each of the past six seasons, and crushing the ball virtually every game, Stanton is a bat that you definitely want in your lineup. However, the time to panic for the Marlins and their fans is not now.

Although given just a 22 percent chance at making the postseason by MLB.com, the Marlins still have some big time contributors, including Christian Yelich, Martin Prado and Marcell Ozuna, among others. While their pitching, with the exception of Jose Fernandez, isn’t all that great, I feel they have enough to make the postseason without Stanton, or at least stay relevant right up until the end.

It’s been thirteen years since the Marlins made the postseason at all, winning the World Series back in 2003. If nothing else, the Marlins are giving the fans in Miami something to be optimistic about for a change, currently tied with the Cardinals for a Wild Card spot with less than fifty games remaining.

They survived 80 games without Dee Gordon.

Now they just need to make it 44 without Giancarlo Stanton.

Ichiro Suzuki Notches 3,000th Hit

It took him a bit longer than expected, sitting on 2,998 hits for seven straight games, but Ichiro Suzuki finally tallied his 2,999 hit on Saturday and promptly recorded knock number 3,000 on Sunday, making him the 30th player all-time to reach the incredible mark. Ichiro

With the hit, Ichiro has all but locks himself in as a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Although Ichiro’s batting average for this season has taken a bit of a dive recently, due to his several hitless games in a row, he’s still batting .317 on the season and holds a .314 lifetime average.

It’s that type of consistency that has ultimately given Ichiro so much success over his career. Spending most of his “prime” years over in Japan before coming to the United States in 2001, Ichiro absolutely burst onto the scene, hitting .350 with 56 stolen bases his rookie year. That would turn out to be just the beginning of what would turn into ten straight 200-hit seasons and subsequently 3,000 hits.

Whether Ichiro retires in the next year or two, or decides to play until age fifty is yet to be seen. But one thing is for sure. As long as Ichiro continues to don a uniform, he’ll continue to do what he does best: Get hits — lots of them.

Thrilling Wild Card Race Finishes Setting Up

One of the best things ever done for Major League Baseball in recent history, in my opinion, was the implementation of the second Wild Card back in 2012. Since then, a number of teams have been given at least a shot at postseason glory that would have missed the cut completely in season’s past. This year is looking to be another great example of that.

With just over fifty games still to be played over the course of the 2016 season, there are eleven teams around baseball within five games of a Wild Card spot, giving them hope of a magical season. It’s the prospect that any team can now make he postseason that’s making things all that more exciting.

Two of the most surprising teams vying for a spot in the playoffs this season are the Marlins and the Rockies. The Marlins currently hold a Wild Card spot, with Colorado just four games back of their own. Neither team was really expected to do all that much when the season began, so for them to be in such a place this late in the season is remarkable.

However, there is still a lot of season left where anything can potentially happen. It will all come down to the wire, making for a terrific finish to the regular season over the next couple of months.

State of the Baseball World After the Trade Deadline

The days and weeks leading up to baseball’s annual trade deadline is always a hectic time around Major League Baseball. Virtually, no player is safe from the trade market if the right offer is presented, and there is guaranteed to always be some exciting moves. In the end, it’s the trades made now that can make or break any team’s season two months down the road.

Over the last week, or so, before Monday’s trade deadline, a number of big-time transactions (18 trades, involving 49 players, on Monday alone) took place. Although some where bigger than others, and will therefore have greater impacts, they all will have some impact on the landscape of Major League Baseball. Since it would be nearly impossible to discuss every single move, here’s a recap of some of the larger ones in my mind:

Arguably the biggest trade made of the entire week was the one that saw Aroldis Chapman heading to the Cubs for a Chapmanquad of prospects, in Adam Warren, Gleyber Torres, Billy McKinney and Rashad Crawford. While giving up four future stars for a closer isn’t necessarily always a good move, it definitely is in this case. With Chapman possessing a fastball that can be cranked up to 105, Chapman is one of the most dominant at what he does and definitely makes the Cubs the World Series favorites again after they had fallen off a bit as of late.

Another move that made a team favorites once again was the one that saw Melvin Upton Jr. getting sent off to the Blue Jays for Hansel Rodriguez. Upton has truly been having a breakout season after a few down years, and he will be able to help make the Jays even better. Although he pales in comparison to Toronto’s power group of Troy Tulowitzki, Edwin Encarancion, Jose Bautista and Josh Donaldson, Upton Jr. is still a big pickup for the Jays.

The only true blockbuster trade of the past week involved a total of seven players. Andrew Cashner, Colin Rea (later returned due to injury concerns) and CashnerTayron Guerrero were sent to the Marlins for Jarred Cosart, Carter Capps, Luis Castillo (the prospect returned for Rea) and Josh Naylor. While Cashner hasn’t been having the greatest of seasons, he has shown signs in the past of being dominant at times. On the flip side, Cosart hasn’t really ever lived up to the hype and will be looking to breakout with San Diego.

Speaking of hype — while the Nationals have lived up to the preseason billings to this point in the season, their closer, Jonathan Papelbon, has not. For that reason, the Nats went out and secured what they view as the answer to the problem, getting Mark Melancon from the Pirates for Felipe Rivero and Taylor Hearn. I like the move a lot, as Melancon can truly be a big impact player towards the end of any given game and should give them added security to lock up close games.

One of the oddest trades of the lot occurred when Matt Kemp was sent to the Braves for Hector Olivera. While Kemp is going to be a Brave for the foreseeable future due to his large contract, Olivera, on the other hand, was immediately released upon his arrival to San Diego. Overall, Olivera has been more trouble than he’s worth, not playing the way he had been expected and getting involved in a lot of off-the-field issues. For that reason, the move works out great for the Padres, as they finally were able to free up Kemp’s contract, despite losing him to the Braves, who are looking to rebuild.

Another team who made it apparent they were in the rebuilding stage are the New York Yankees. After sending off Chapman earlier in the week, the Yankees parted ways with another piece of the Yankees’ “three-headed monster” in the form of Andrew Miller, leaving just Dellin Betances in what was once seen as the best bullpen in baseball. Even so, the Yankees were able to acquire Clint Frazier, Justus Sheffield, Ben Heller and J.P. Feyereisen to reload their subpar farm system.

But the Yankees weren’t yet done with their team reshaping. On the day of the deadline, the Yankees sent Carlos BeltranBeltran to the Rangers for Dillon Tate, Nick Green and Erik Swanson. While the Yankees felt confident heading into this season that they could make the postseason, things haven’t gone their way, and the Yankees are obviously planning for next year and beyond by adding a ton of great prospects to their farm system.

However, the Giants are seemingly planning for now, going out and picking up Matt Moore from the Rays for Matt Duffy, Lucius Fox and Michael Santos. This move gives the Giants yet another key piece to their rotation to attempt another run at the World Series. Whether or not they get there is yet to be seen, but Moore will assuredly give them good outings that improves their chances greatly.

But while the Giants are on top in the National League West, the Dodgers made a move to attempt to chase them down. On Monday, the Dodgers acquired Rich Hill and Josh Reddick from the Athletics for Frankie Montas, Grant Holmes ad Jharel Cotton. Although those three are some big time pieces to give up, the Dodgers received back a nice piece in Josh Reddick and a pitcher who (once healthy again) should help them make up a few innings with Kershaw on the DL.

BruceOne of the moves that I liked the most is the pickup of Jay Bruce by the Mets for Dilson Herrera and Max Wotell. Anticipated to be slotted behind Yoenis Cespedes in the Mets’ lineup, the addition of Bruce makes the Mets a very formidable bunch. If the Mets didn’t have a any sort of chance before at chasing down the first place Nationals, they certainly have a decent shot now.

But while the Mets are looking to chase down the Nationals, the Rangers are looking to extend their lead in the American League Central. After Jonathan Lucroy was reportedly traded away to the Indians for a few prospects, that deal turned out to fall through, as Lucroy vetoed the trade. In the end, however, Lucroy found himself heading to the Rangers, in addition to Jeremy Jeffress, in exchange for Lewis Brinson and Luis Ortiz. Although I really liked those two prospects, Lucroy and Jeffress should help the Rangers in their push towards the postseason, especially with Beltran being added as well.

Finally, the Blue Jays made another splash just before the deadline arrived, getting Francisco Liriano, Reese McGuire and Harold Ramirez from the Pirates for Drew Hutchinson. With the Jays’ rotation needing a bit of a boost, I feel that Liriano will give them just that. It remains to be seen how much of an impact he will have, but Liriano could be a major difference maker for Toronto in the weeks to come.

While not all of these trades will wind up paying off, it will certainly be interesting to follow them all as the season progresses. Sometimes it’s the simplest of moves that can cause a team to take off. You never can tell from one year to the next what will be the key to taking teams to the ultimate high of a World Series title.

Ichiro Suzuki Nearing Two Ultimate Hit Milestones

Although it won’t officially count in the record books, Ichiro Suzuki is on the verge of surpassing the all-time hit record of 4,256 professional hits, set by Pete Rose over the course of his would-be Hall of Fame career. Sitting on 4,255 combined pro hits between Major League Baseball and Japan’s equivalent level Nippon Baseball League, Ichiro is just two hits shy of having the most hits in professional baseball history.

SuzukiHowever, as previously stated, it won’t go down as the official record for hits in Major League Baseball history, as 1,278 of Ichiro’s career hits came over in Japan and therefore don’t count towards his career numbers here in America. But regardless, it’s still an amazing accomplishment.

Ichiro first broke into the majors back in 2001 at age 27. That year with the Mariners, Ichiro recorded one of the best first seasons in MLB history. With 242 hits, a .350 average and 56 stolen bases, Ichiro walked away with the MVP and Rookie of the Year awards, along with a Silver Slugger, Gold Glove and an All-Star appearance. Quite the haul for a player in their very first year.

Going on to have nine consecutive superstar level seasons following 2001, including nine more Gold Gloves, nine subsequent seasons of 200+ hits (including the single-season record of 262 back in 2004) and nine more All-Star games, Ichiro hasn’t been on the same level since his last star season in 2010. But that doesn’t matter. He’s still an all-time great and a sure first-ballot Hall of Famer.

His approaching milestone of 3,000 career MLB hits is further evidence of that. Although Ichiro has slacked off a bit in his seasonal numbers since leaving the Mariners in 2012, he is still fun to watch, and can still hit with the best of them. Now just 23 hits away from becoming the 30th player to reach the 3,000 hit mark, the 42-year-old Ichiro is certainly still an MLB-level talent.

Even though he won’t go down in history as the all-time hits king — Pete Rose would seem to be happy about that — Ichiro will definitely go down as the best all-around player to ever come out of Japan, and one of the best in the entire history of Major League Baseball.

Hit-record or not, Ichiro is still in a class all his own.