Monday afternoon saw a flurry of deals as trading season kicked into high gear, but perhaps none was more surprising than seeing the Seattle Mariners send longtime star Ichiro Suzuki to the New York Yankees. In terms of sheer star power – Ichiro, a Yankee! – it’s delicious, but the actual on-field effects may be a bit muted.
The Yankees aren’t acquiring the legendary 2004 Ichiro, who hit .372/.414/.455 with 262 hits, and they’re not even getting quality late-career 2010 Ichiro, who hit .315/.359/.394 with 42 steals. The version of Ichiro that will be coming to the Bronx is the one who has hit only .268/.302/.342 over the last two seasons, with 2012’s .281 wOBA tying him with Jeff Francoeur & Cameron Maybin for the lowest mark by an outfielder in all of baseball.
It’s not too difficult to see why Ichiro has been struggling, because while he’s not really striking out more than he had previously, his walk rate – never great in the first place – is down to a career-low 4.0%. Then as his 38-year-old legs slow, he’s no longer beating out the infield hits he was once famous for. (He has just 13 so far, with more than half the season gone; only twice in his career has he had a season with fewer than 35, and never less than 31.) It’s no surprise that as the infield hits have fallen off since 2010 that his BABIP numbers over the last two seasons are not only under .300, they’re the first time he’s ever been under .316. Not even Ichiro, it seems, can outrun Father Time.
Still, there’s reason to believe that the move can help Ichiro somewhat, perhaps even pushing him from “someone on fantasy rosters only because of his name” territory into someone actually providing some value. Moving from one of the worst hitter’s parks in baseball to one of the best should provide an immediate boost, of course, and he does indeed have a 170-point home/road OPS split this year. There’s also the small matter of moving from an atrocious offensive squad which could neither put runners on for him nor drive him home when he was on to a team loaded with Grandersons, Canos, and Teixeiras. In addition, while it’s very difficult to quantify, he would hardly be the first player energized by a move from a last-place team to one in the thick of a pennant race.
With Brett Gardner out for the season and Nick Swisher fighting a quad strain, the Yankees were in need of outfield depth, so Ichiro should get plenty of opportunities. Though he started in right field in his Yankee debut, he’s expected to move to left field when Swisher is healthy, potentially losing some playing time to Andruw Jones against lefties. (And, one would hope, preventing Raul Ibanez from ever wearing a glove again.) Don’t expect to see anything like vintage Ichiro over the final two months, but in a pennant race, in a better ballpark, in the midst of a far better lineup, he could be an interesting source of runs and steals, as long as he can improve his on-base skills even a little. (Or you could just find your league’s Yankee fan and sell as high as possible. Either way.)
On the Seattle side of things, the two pitchers acquired are fantasy non-entities, with D.J. Mitchell probably profiling as a middle reliever and Danny Farquhar now joining his fourth team in two months. Ichiro’s departure is likely to open up additional playing time for Casper Wells, though Carlos Peguero had the honor of being the first post-Ichiro Seattle right fielder last night. Peguero has great raw power, though it rarely matters since he never connects with the ball, sporting a 64/9 K/BB in parts of two seasons in the bigs and a strikeout percentage of over 30% in the minors. Wells has strikeout issues of his own, but his minor league track record of a little bit of pop and some on-base skills could make him somewhat interesting in deep AL-only leagues.
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