Yankees fans everywhere were buzzing yesterday after hearing the news that their team landed Ichiro Suzuki, probably Japan’s greatest player to ever come to the States. However, they must be careful not to get too excited as at 38-years-old Ichiro is a shell of the former player he once was and may not be as big a factor with the Yankees as many of them are expecting.
The trade was very good for the Yankees in some respects. Ichiro provides them with exactly what they needed – an outfielder with speed and defense who can move Andruw Jones and Raul Ibanez back into the DH role. There is also the hope that moving from one of the worst teams in the game to one of the best rejuvenates his bat. And they got all of that for two minor leaguers, one of which they got off the waiver wire for nothing recently.
D.J. Mitchell is obviously the biggest piece the Yankees gave up. He’s not a nothing prospect, but he certainly had a hard path to the Bronx ahead of him. He had a chance coming out of spring training along with Adam Warren and David Phelps to make an impact on the team. Obviously Phelps beat him out and while Phelps has improved, Mitchell has taken a step backward with his 5.04 ERA this season. Because of where he was at now, the best the Yankees could look forward to is using him out of the bullpen over the next year or two and finding random players to plug into the pen has become something of a specialty for Brian Cashman.
Now onto Ichiro’s role with the Yankees.
First let me say, Ichiro seems highly motivated. He was the one who requested the trade out of Seattle, but he had a no trade clause and could have dictated wherever he wanted to go. It must not have been an easy decision for him to come to the Yankees either.
Ichiro is used to being the star in Seattle. He hits leadoff, or third, in their order, plays right field, and will no doubt don a Mariners cap in Cooperstown. To join the Yankees he had to be moved to left field, where Joe Girardi said he will get the bulk of his playing time, move way down in the order, he batted 8th last night, and he even had to change jersey numbers from No. 51 to No. 31 because some guy who hasn’t even officially retired used to wear it.
So while it is very unusual for a player to change teams this late in his career and then become rejuvenated, Ichiro seems like the perfect case for such a thing to happen.
The Yankees better hope that there is at least a little rejuvenation in his bat too because as it stands right now, Ichiro is not a clear upgrade over what they have had.
Consider this, Ichiro has hit .261/.288/.352 so far this season.
Yankees left fielders have hit a combined .242/.303/.455 this season.
Yankees DH’s have hit a combined .265/.337/.469.
And Dewayne Wise, the player DFA’d for Ichiro, has hit .262/.286/.492.
In almost every way, Ichiro is a worse option than what the Yankees already had. The saving grace may be Ichiro’s road numbers which are much better. Away from Seattle, he hit .296/.313/.399 this season. Still, not tremendous numbers, but combined with his defense and speed and the Yankees might have something there.
This is still a good trade even if Ichiro doesn’t turn his season around at the plate though. The one spot the Yankees have been thin talent wise is in the outfield this season. Brett Gardner‘s injury meant that they had to use the defensively inept Ibanez in left field regularly. This deal means they no longer have to do that.
It also provides the Yankees more depth that will be crucial over the next two months. With Nick Swisher currently out the Yankees outfield over the next week would have included both Ibanez and Jones along with Curtis Granderson, who cannot take a night off in that situation. This gives the Yankees much better options especially in the event of a more serious injury than the one Swisher is currently experiencing.
The bottom line is that this deal might not come even close to what people are hoping for. When all is said and done, they might have been better off with Wise out there. But Ichiro gives the Yankees stronger defense, a new dimension with the running game, and depth where they needed it which cannot be overrated during a pennant race. And they didn’t have to give up a whole lot to get it.