Ichiro to the Yankees—Good Move or Bad?

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The Yankees and Mariners are like a toxic relationship in which the participants can’t stay away from each other. In part, it’s because they have mutual interests. The majority of the time the Mariners are sellers at mid-season because they’re so habitually terrible; the Yankees are buyers and looking to bolster their roster for the post-season. In the past, this has led to contentious back-and-forths with allegations of shady business practices. It’s an ironic twist that the Yankees are generally the complainants. Two years ago, it was the Cliff Lee trade that was supposedly “done” with Lee going to the Yankees before the Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik pulled back and sent Lee to the Rangers for what was supposedly a “better” package.

It didn’t turn out to be a better package. GM Brian Cashman and the Yankees had decreed that they would no longer deal with the Mariners. But, like the aforementioned analogy of a toxic relationship, they rekindled their romance with the Mariners sending Michael Pineda and Jose Campos to the Yankees for Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi. Pineda is out for the season after shoulder surgery and no one seems to know what happened to Campos after he went on the minor league disabled list with elbow inflammation. No news has been provided as to his condition and any suggestion that he’s going to pitch again this season with the end of the minor league campaign a month away is difficult to believe. The Yankees could’ve used Montero as a frontline trade chip to get a legitimate starting pitcher like Matt Garza. Instead they have two pitchers on the disabled list.

Now the organizations have hooked up again with the Mariners sending Ichiro Suzuki to the Yankees for righty pitcher D.J. Mitchell and righty Danny Farquhar. Both Mitchell and Farquhar are 25 and are non-prospects. This was a case of the Mariners saying, “Take him and give us something to sell to the angry Ichiro fans.”

I’ll ignore the nonsense uttered by Mariners’ Zduriencik last week in which he said Ichiro is still a “franchise” player. I’m not sure why he said it at all if he was intending to trade Ichiro, but that’s neither here nor there. It’s probably sound advice to simply ignore the things that GMs say and wait for them to start making actual moves.

As for the trade itself, it comes down to the questions: What are the Yankees getting? Are they getting the Ichiro from 10 years ago who’s been beaten down by the constant losing or are they getting what he is now—a player who isn’t particularly good and whose quirks were tolerated as the uniqueness of a great talent, but are now just annoying?

They’re not getting the player he was 10 years ago. He’s gone. This player is going to be 39 in October and his numbers have taken a nosedive. But joining the Yankees might lend itself to a brief, 2 ½ month renaissance. Going from a dead end situation to one in which he’ll be a background player isn’t quantifiable on the stat sheet. The Yankees are running away with their division and their season is going to be judged on what they do in the playoffs. The Mariners circumstances of waiting, waiting, waiting for the atrocity that they’ve been for the past four seasons to end could drive even the most motivated players to apathy.

Can Ichiro rejuvenate his career as a part-timer for the Yankees? Yes. It’s not going to be a David Justice move from 2000 when Justice was acquired by Cashman out of the blue and hit 20 homers in 78 games as a key contributor to another championship, but veteran players who’ve known greatness can recapture that for a brief burst. The buzz Ichiro will get on being released from the Mariners’ prison of constant losing; a new uniform and chance for a championship will wake up his game to a degree. He can still run and steal bases. He still plays good outfield defense. He’s still got a semblance of the wizard-like bat control that accumulated all those hits with the Mariners.

The Yankees get a veteran looking to prove his naysayers wrong and win something other than individual awards. The Mariners clear a hurdle that was impeding their rebuilding process. Ichiro gets a chance to win and be something other than a stat compiler.

This is a great move for the Yankees, the Mariners and Ichiro.


Ichiro: Beautiful to Watch and Functionally Empty

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If anything exemplified the 2012 version of Ichiro Suzuki, it was one play in particular during Saturday’s Mariners’ 6-2 loss to the Yankees at Yankee Stadium.

In the bottom of the second inning with the Yankees leading 2-0 and Russell Martin on second base, Jayson Nix hit a fly ball to right field that barely cleared the wall for a 2-run homer. Ichiro sprinted to the wall, leaped and didn’t catch a catchable ball.

It wasn’t due to fan interference or that he missed it. He neglected to do one important thing: he didn’t reach up with his glove in a sincere effort to make the catch.

He did jump as if he were exerting himself to make a home run-robbing grab. Someone watching it once would’ve said that Ichiro tried and failed. Crashing into the wall added to the perception of all-out play.

Did he mistime his leap?

Did he forget where the wall was?

Or did he not even bother trying to catch the ball for fear of missing it and ruining his image?

It landed just over the wall in the first row and could’ve—maybe should’ve—been caught.

And it wasn’t.

As usual, with Ichiro, the aesthetic is more important than the result.

Ichiro is beautiful to watch. He has a sweet swing, amazing bat control and fundamentals nonpareil. His stolen base percentage is a career 82%, he rarely strikes out, has an accurate cannon for an arm and never looks out of control. He’s a great talent with statistics that will eventually result in Hall of Fame induction in North America. But that doesn’t make him a great player; it doesn’t make him a winning player. It certainly doesn’t make him worth the $17 million he’s earning this season.

Ichiro is a free agent after 2012. He’s so popular in Seattle and has achieved icon status that it’s hard to let him leave without a token offer, but they should. Realistically, they’re losing 90+ games a year with Ichiro, how much worse would they be without him? How much better could they be with a right fielder who hits the ball out of the park, who’s younger and doesn’t care about how he’s viewed?

As amazing as he seems when you watch Ichiro’s highlights and examine his overall numbers, it doesn’t supersede his decline. He no longer steals bases, his defense in right field isn’t as good as it was, he isn’t accruing the 250 hits he once did and he’s never hit for significant power. The Mariners have stopped placating Ichiro at the expense of what was best for the rest of the team. No reports of contract extension talks can be found anywhere. He’s going to be 39 in October, is playing for a team desperately needing offense and he’s no longer productive enough to justify keeping for his style or substance.

It’s time to move on.