The Yankees have acquired Ichiro Suzuki from the Mariners in exchange for pitching prospects D.J. Mitchell and Danny Farquhar. The Mariners are also paying approximately $4.5 million of the $6.7 million remaining on Ichiro’s contract, leaving the Yankees responsible for a fairly modest $2.25 million.
According to Mariners CEO Howard Lincoln, Ichiro had approached the club requesting a trade, reasoning that the Mariners are building for the future and it was best for the team if younger players were given more playing time.
Ichiro has also become a shell of his former self, posting a .289 wOBA last season and a .281 wOBA this year, both of which rank near the league’s bottom. Since the start of last season, only Cliff Pennington, Casey McGehee and Gordon Beckham have produced lower wOBAs. Trading him must have been very difficult, but it was much easier to justify, and downright responsible, from a production standpoint.
While Safeco Field clearly has a hand in his decline, he is simply nowhere near the same player fans are accustomed to seeing. He isn’t an everyday player anymore, but it would have been tough for the Mariners to play him sporadically given his importance to the team and the community. The Yankees don’t need him to be anything more than a part-time platoon player to make this deal work out, and for Ichiro, the realization that his days as a full-time starter are done is likely easier to stomach on a playoff contender.
While it’s somewhat shocking that the Mariners dealt their franchise player — especially since most signs pointed towards his retention next season — what he could potentially provide his new club is rather intriguing. In the appropriate role and under the right circumstances, he could really benefit the Yankees down the stretch.
Simply by not playing the majority of his games at Safeco Field, which has absolutely crushed BABIP and offense in general this season, Ichiro figures to improve his seasonal line. If his numbers at the plate with the Yankees resemble his current road numbers, and his terrific fielding persists, the Yankees won’t think twice about the money they’ll spend or the prospects they dealt. If they just acquired “Road” Ichiro, this is a darned good deal that bolsters depth in an important area.
Context is key in any analysis, and with Ichiro what’s important is how the Yankees will use him. If he splits time in a platoon — he has a .309 wOBA vs. righties compared to a .222 wOBA against lefties, he will provide more overall utility. If, on top of that, he produces close to his current road marks — a .311 road wOBA compared to a .243 home wOBA — the Yankees could end up with the version of Ichiro that hits close to the league average and fields very well. We obviously cannot take his road numbers and assume that he will match them now that he has left the unfriendly confines, but it’s more likely he produces near that level than it is that he completely falters.
But how Ichiro factors into the Yankees outfield is still a question mark. Curtis Granderson starts in center field. Nick Swisher mans right field. Raul Ibanez and Andruw Jones platoon in left field. Ichiro represents added depth given the injuries to Brett Gardner, but it’s unclear if he’s a better option than anyone, anywhere. Both Swisher and Jones sport .346 wOBAs, and Ibanez has an average-ish .318 wOBA.
The left field platoon of Jones and Ibanez has been productive to the tune of 2.1 WAR this season, and though Ichiro is a defensive upgrade over both, his role is likely limited to the third wheel of that platoon.
The Yankees could also use Ichiro in a catch-all outfield role, spelling any of their starters if injuries arise, or filling in when rest is required. That’s the key with a depth move like this — Ichiro isn’t counted on to be the tremendous hitter of yesteryear. The Yankees realistically don’t need him to do all that much, which means they are far more likely to use him in the proper roles. As a result, they stand to extract far more value out of him.
It feels very strange that Ichiro is no longer a member of the Seattle Mariners, but it’s ultimately for the best. The Mariners get to play younger players in a rebuilding phase while he gets to play in meaningful games without all the pressures of a fanbase on his shoulders. The Yankees part ways with two mediocre prospects and chump change to get a popular player who will get put in the perfect situation given his skill-set. The Yankees are betting on him producing closer to his more respectable road numbers from here on out. Given the cost of acquiring him, this was a bet well worth making.
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