The New York Yankees acquired Ichiro Suzuki from the Seattle Mariners on Monday in a trade that sent the Japanese star from a last-place team to a World Series contender.
The teams announced the deal hours before their three-game series opener at Safeco Field in Seattle, in which the Yankees sent a pair of minor league pitchers to the Mariners. Simply walking across from one clubhouse to another, Ichiro started in right field in place of the injured Nick Swisher and batted eighth for the Bronx Bombers. It was the first time the 10-All Star suited up for another club in his entire major league career. Before making his debut for the Yankees at the plate, Suzuki bowed twice to the fans that supported him during his 12-year tenure in Seattle and then promptly got things going for his new team, smacking a single to center field. Sayonara, Seattle. Hello, New York. Just like that, Ichiro went from last place in the AL West to first in the AL East. The Yanks beat the Mariners 4-1.
No one saw it coming, yet it makes sense, since the Yanks have a tradition of acquiring (rescuing) star players from bad teams. Ivan Rodriguez, Kerry Wood, Lance Berkman and now Suzuki have all been Yankees in the last five seasons.
Is Ichiro going to be a panacea for the Yankees? Probably not. He’s a rental, here for the duration of his contract, which ends after the season. He is playing poorly, not just by his standards, but any. Suzuki once led or tied for the major league lead in hits seven times, tying Pete Rose and Ty Cobb for the most such seasons, and set the single-season hits record, with 262 in 2004. He led the Mariners to 116 victories his rookie season, while winning the batting title and leading the majors in stolen bases. It’s been more than a decade has passed since Suzuki has returned the postseason, and the outfielders production has dropped drastically this season. For the Mariners, he had a .288 on-base percentage and a .353 slugging percentage. Only three other players in the American League with at least 300 plate appearances have performed so poorly in both categories: Alexi Ramirez of the Chicago White Sox, Justin Smoak of the Mariners and Cliff Pennington of the Oakland A’s.
Despite his woeful performance, Ichiro is still considered one of the game’s greats. The 38-year-old, former AL MVP, with the playoffs in his sights for the first time in 11 years, may become a rejuvenated player for the Yankees. If Derek Jeter was able to rediscover his swing in the second half of last season, it’s possible for Suzuki to do the same.
But the Bombers don’t need Suzuki to be a batting champion. They need him to man an outfield spot and use his speed to make plays in the field and round the bases. He’s stolen 15 bases in 17 tries this season. What he could do while wearing pinstripes is to run more and generate the kind of electricity manager Joe Girardi admits the Yanks have missed in the absence of Brett Gardner. New York isn’t looking for Ichiro to be the man, but merely just fit in as one of the guys, who provides a spark in the lineup.
Will the acquisition of Ichiro Suzuki help or hinder the Yankees coming down the stretch?