If the rumors that Ichiro has indeed been sent to the New York Yankees for a package of minor league pitchers (DJ Mitchell and Danny Farquhar), it signals a significant change in the Mariners front office, as well as their clubhouse. Ichiro has been a staple in Seattle since his MLB debut in 2001, delighting fans with his unorthodox batting stance, fantastic speed, and rocket launcher arm. As a life-long Yankee fan and a long-time Ichiro fan, I’m personally thrilled to watch him man the outfield and step into the batter’s box in Yankee Stadium using his trademark speed on defense to take away hits, while annihilating runners with his arm on the base paths. But what does this mean for both teams? Let’s take a look at the Mariners’ takeaway first:
As I suggested over the All-Star break, Seattle is now committing full-time to the rebuilding effort, and it makes one wonder how many other Mariners – particularly Felix Hernandez – could be leaving before the July 31st trade deadline. Seattle should be in full-on rebuild mode, especially with Texas crushing opponents, Los Angeles locked into at least 4-5 seasons of devastating Trout-Pujols-Trumbo combo to go along with a good pitching staff, and the surprising Oakland A’s showing that they could be a serious Wild Card contender. The Mariners pick up a nice little package in this deal, grabbing Mitchell, a pitcher with the potential to turn into a solid mid-rotation starter. Farquhar’s ceiling is much lower and at best he may turn into a long reliever, but this package was probably the best Seattle was going to get, because Ichiro hasn’t exactly been lighting the league on fire over the past year-and-a-half.
Ichiro has only hit .261/.288/.353 this season, swiping 15 bases while hitting 5 homeruns. He doesn’t strikeout much, but he doesn’t walk much either, deriving most of his value from his ability to get base hits, particularly singles. From the Yankees’ perspective, they’re getting a player who’s past his prime, but one who still holds value, particularly on a team such a this. Ichiro’s 15 stolen bases would rank 1st on the Yankees, who rank 11th in the American League in steals and having severely been missing the injured Brett Gardner’s speed on the base paths.
Ichiro should also enjoy moving from one of the toughest parks to hit a homerun into the easiest, particularly due to the short porch in right field, which should mesh nicely with his swing. Granted he’s never been much of a homerun hitter, Ichiro should still benefit nonetheless. The Japanese outfielder will probably have to adjust to hitting lower in the lineup (he’s hit lead-off in a whopping 95.1% of his 1,844 career games), most likely in the 9th hole, where he will act as a 2nd lead-off man in front of Derek Jeter. In past years, Yankee manager Joe Girardi has opted to use speedster Brett Gardner in that spot to great effect, and hopefully Ichiro can duplicate that success.
Ichiro will also solidify the Yankees outfield, which is currently using a platoon of Andruw Jones and Raul Ibanez in left field. Ibanez in particular has turned into somewhat of a sore spot in the lineup after his hot start to the season. Since the calender turned to June, Ibanez has hit just .206 in 117 plate appearances while hitting just 3 homers and walking just 10 times. He also might be the worst defensive outfielder in baseball, coupling a weak throwing arm with pathetic range. Ichiro isn’t quite the fielder he was from 2001-2010, when he won 10 straight Gold Gloves, but he still rates above average and he can still throw a pretty little laser from right field.
But most importantly, this gives Ichiro the chance to pursue the only real accomplishment missing from his illustrious career: a World Series ring. Seattle is in no position to compete for even a playoff spot anytime soon, and at age-39 the outfielder only has maybe a couple seasons left in his career. He’s won the AL MVP award, the Rookie of the Year award, made 10 All-Star games, and won 10 Gold Gloves, but he only has 1 playoff appearance in his career, way back in 2001. By joining the Yankees, he should get to experience October baseball for the 1st time in over a decade, and with a little bit of luck, he may get to experience even more. This low risk-high reward trade has the potential to push the Yankees over the top, which would mean big things for the Japanese outfielder.
Update: Ichiro is slotted to hit 8th and play right field for the Yankees tonight against the Mariners at SafeCo Field.