The Youkilis And Ichiro Signings Fit The 2013 Yankees—And That’s The Problem

Gone are the days when the Yankees acted decisively, swiftly and, if need be, expensively to fill all their gaping or perceived holes that cost them a World Series the year before. In 2009, when they did win their lone World Series over the past decade, they were still looking for ways in improve by making bold changes in letting World Series MVP Hideki Matsui depart as a free agent, trading away another post-season hero Melky Cabrera, reacquiring Javier Vazquez, and acquiring Curtis Granderson.

Some worked, some wound up being a wash, some were disastrous, but at least they were doing something for the short and long terms and at least they were done in the Yankee fashion of money being no object in the interests of getting better.

The new Yankee template has nothing to do with getting better. It has to do with getting cheaper; spackling over holes because they’re too expensive to repair correctly; dropping nuggets into the media to keep them relevant or provide cover stories (the Josh Hamilton talk and GM Brian Cashman not being allowed to spend money at the winter meetings); and signing players not based on what they can do, but to placate the fans. They created this dynamic with the image of a first class organization and budgetless wheelbarrows full of cash from the Steinbrenners and the World Series or bust concept that anything less than a championship was deemed a failure. Now they’re facing the consequences of that business model and the desire/need to get the payroll down to $189 million by 2014.

Two more short-term signings have been made to fill a hole (Kevin Youkilis) and to make the fans happy (Ichiro Suzuki). Youkilis agreed to a 1-year, $12 million contract and the details of a contract with Ichiro are reportedly being finalized, but he’s returning.

The Youkilis signing makes plenty of sense and fills the chasm created by Alex Rodriguez’s hip surgery and apparent absence until the summer. The Ichiro signing, if it’s done in the interests of him playing regularly, is a bad one. In years past, the Yankees would’ve thanked Ichiro for his help from August onward and moved along with someone younger and better. But they can’t afford anyone better. They can’t trade for a young third baseman like Chase Headley because they no longer have the prospects, so they had to sign Youkilis. They can’t dive into the free agent market for a Hamilton. Agents and players aren’t going straight to the Yankees safe in the knowledge that if the Yankees want the player or are desperate enough, the money will be a secondary issue because it’s plainly and simply there as a matter of course. That world doesn’t exist anymore.

They’re left with this: signing a useful player like Youkilis who doesn’t fit in with the Yankees clubhouse but, as a short-term fill-in, was the best option for their shockingly limited resources. There’s a possibility that Youkilis will either be a toned down version of himself or be advised how to act like a “Yankee” and not a “Red Sox.” This might affect his play on the field moving forward. Bear in mind that Youkilis isn’t the player he was in his Red Sox heyday.

Ichiro on the other hand, became a fan favorite because of his solid play after being acquired from the Mariners in late July. He played his usual solid defense, was a part of the landscape rather than the diva he’d become with the Mariners, and seemed rejuvenated by playing on a contender. None of that means he should’ve been re-signed or that he would’ve been re-signed as a regular contributor if prior Yankees’ incarnations were still the order of the day.

Here are the facts about Ichiro: he’s a declining 39-year-old player who batted .322 with a .340 on-base percentage and a .337 BAbip in 240 plate appearances as a Yankee. Even at the height of his powers, the split between his batting average and OBP has always been quite low because he doesn’t walk. He looked good for the Yankees because the balls he was hitting were finding a spot between the fielders, but in reality he wasn’t much better for the Yankees on the field than he’s been for the Mariners in the past two seasons. He’ll steal a few bases, show good glove work, and maybe have what looks like a good year with the bat. Good doesn’t necessarily mean productive. That’s the player they’re getting and if he’s asked to contribute for 400 at bats, it’s abundantly clear how far the Yankees have fallen in the hot stove competition and are destined to fall when the real competition begins in April of 2013.

They’re trying to save money as an end unto itself expecting the pinstripes and Yankees lore to be enough of an attraction to bring fans to the park no matter the state of the team. The implication of damaging the brand is not without merit. The on-field product will be cheaper, no doubt, but they’ll also be bringing in less money because of a lack of interest. They’re signing veterans past their sell-by date and hoping they have a small spring of baseball life left to “experience” their way into the playoffs. It’s a hard sell and it shows—not in a good way.

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  1. #1 by Dave on December 12, 2012 - 9:34 pm

    Totally agree on Ichiro. He had — and still had — solid skills. But his credentials have always been a tad suspect. You’d think, with all his hits and high averages, that he’d have an OPB over .400. For his career, it’s .365 … very good, but not great. Never walks. Makes lots of outs. Way too many outs, really. (In fairness, he did have a legitimate hot streak for about a week with the Yankees when he drove the ball for doubles and homers. But that was one week in a whole season.) Jeter’s OPB is .382, by way of comparison. (In fact, with his 216 MLB-leading hits total, Jeet’s OBP this year was a solid, not sterling, .362. I’d say he had a B or B+ year at best. No way comparable to his MVP-level efforts in ’98, ’99, ’06 and ’09. I love Derek, but his production in 2012, despite all the hits, was simply not “elite.”)

    • #2 by admin on December 12, 2012 - 10:05 pm

      Admittedly, I’ve never been a fan of Ichiro. The accumulation of singles has never impressed me, especially when he had the ability to be more than what he was and instead chose to be a stat compiler for individual gain. He’s absolutely not the type of individual the Yankees have pursued in the past for more than a brief time and done more than wring out the last remnants of use and discarded them. But they’re keeping Ichiro.

      • #3 by Rob Brown on December 16, 2012 - 3:21 am

        I disagree with your assessment of Ichiro Suzuki. During the previous decade, (i.e., 2001-10) he was one of the three best all around outfielders in baseball alongside Barry Bonds and Carlos Beltran. Yes, his OBP wasn’t that high, but you can’t dismiss 10 straight 200 hit seasons and Gold Gloves (keep in mind, he easily has the Range Factor and Fielding Averages to back those Gold Gloves up). In all ten of those years, he made the top two in hits for the AL and led the league seven times! He also had eight seasons of 100+ Runs Scored despite playing for mostly weak hitting Seattle Mariners teams. I think that the Yanks are making a good move with him even though he is, in fact, not the player he was prior to 2011. Bu don’t be surprised if he has a season that is as good as any one that he had while he was in his prime. He will have a much more powerful line-up around him than he did throughout most of his years with the Mariners.

      • #4 by admin on December 16, 2012 - 7:51 am

        This is precisely the problem: he’s a stat compiler who predominately hits singles. He was a great defensive player and is still quite good, but the Yankees of 2013 are not the Yankees of the past decade in which they’ll be able to carry singles hitters in right and left field. They have no DH and no catcher.
        He would’ve been a reasonable move as a fourth outfielder, but they clearly want him to play because they have no other choice at the moment. Not only that, they had to give him 2 years! Ichiro has proven that when the season isn’t going his way in a team-context, he starts to play for himself. That’s not the way the Yankees were built, but is exactly where they are now.

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