The varied reactions to Ichiro's contract extension, which he'll likely sign Friday, have not been surprising. On one hand, Marlins president David Samson called the reported five-year, $18-$20 million contract, "a joke, it's inexcusable, it's complete mismanagement." Samson doesn't stop there either, listen here (if you can get past his movie reviews in the first few minutes -- apparently he likes to play Roger Ebert when he's not firing the manager of the year).
On the other hand, the case has been made that the deal is actually a bargain for the Mariners. If you want the math, read here, but here's the gist: Ichiro is about 60 runs better than the average center fielder, which translates to about eight wins better than a replacement-level center fielder. Factoring in a natural decline in skills makes Ichiro worth about 25 wins to the team over the course of the contract. Teams paid $4 million per win last offseason, meaning Ichiro is worth at least $100 million over the five years, more if you figure in salary inflation.
To me, it's often the years, not the money, that make a deal bad. Forget the money in Zito's deal, that contract is bad because the Giants bought a declining pitcher for seven years. Giving five years to Ichiro, who will approach 39 in the contract's last year, is a bit of a concern.
However, if I'm the Mariners, I'd suck it up if that's the best I could get. The reason goes back to a Bill James theory: "Uniqueness is a fundamental test of quality." Ichiro is arguably the most unqiue player in baseball. And who's better at his position? Sizemore? and ... Beltran? Beltran is owed $18.5 mil per year the next four years. Even though he's 3.5 years younger than Ichiro, who would you rather have at that amount?
Now, if you subscribe to the theory that speedsters don't age any worse than slow guys, then the years shouldn't worry you as much. And as for the money, well, in my book it's not the Arod-sized contracts that kill a club, it's the three-year, $9.15 million to the likes of Scott Spiezio; the four years, $50 million to Richie Sexson; the four years, $37.5 million to Jarrod Washburn, etc. etc.