We’ve seen this before, and “this” means several things at once in this situation. We’ve seen the New York Yankees make big, unexpected deals. We’ve seen superstars moved from the outhouse to the penthouse in July before. It’s not even unprecedented that a superstar whose shine is fading ends up out of there.
But that doesn’t mean that it’s any less of a shock to see Ichiro Suzuki in the pinstripes of the New York Yankees now. Although he’s far from the dominant, future Hall of Famer who blazed a trail of singles and steals without relent from Japan to Seattle, it was still a show-stopping pause to really see him be traded. As much as any player in the game over the last decade, he was synonymous with the Mariners. To go from that extreme to the uniform, drone-like efficiency that is the Yankees is a vision never imagined before it suddenly came clear. But normal rules and results don’t apply to them, and this deal is a prime example of that.
The move to acquire Ichiro is a story of extremes, on both the surface and in potentials. At face value, it adds one of the most dynamic players of the last decade and one of the top leadoff hitters in the history of the game. But is face value the only value of the deal? Or does the aging vet have something left that can really end up putting a team that is struggling to stay healthy in the outfield over the top?
For optimists, the hope is that he is revitalized by his first pennant race in nine years. Also, that the chance to lower load (and place in the lineup) in a hitters ballpark wakes up the last little bit of vibrancy in Ichiro. There is no pressure on him to win or lose games now. Even without counting the injured Mariano Rivera, there are no less than two guaranteed Hall of Famers in the Bronx in Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez, with a ton of potentials surrounding them as well. At the very least, it puts either a current or former All-Star at every starting position on the Yankees currently. That’s star power that only one place can boast.
But the reality of the situation is that the Yanks gained a player that is everything in name and very little in truly team-changing result; recently, at least. While the claim can be made that the combination of being 38, along with a lack of games that matter may have decreased his drive, the fall-off has been drastic. His batting average has fallen nearly 100 points over the last three years; he’s slowed down a step in the field as well. The definition of a blockbuster deal is that a difference maker is acquired, and a .260 average, with no power and a miniscule on-base percentage south of .300 is a difference maker….in all the wrong ways.
Truthfully, the expectations of Ichiro to be either a huge addition, or a colossal failure, are both overstated because, honestly, there’s nothing to lose for the Yanks. They’ll pay $2 million for the chance that he revives himself in the Bronx, which is nothing for them. They didn’t have to part with anything of value, because the Mariners simply wanted him off the roster, so they wouldn’t have to deal with a difficult “re-sign an ancient-yet-active franchise legend” situation when his contract ends after this winter.
There is some genuine-to-a-positive outlook that can be found, if you divorce the name from the current player. There’s a big difference between hitting leadoff, and hitting eighth or ninth, with Jeter and Granderson behind him. He’s still a very fundamentally skilled player, and with him bunting, putting the ball in play and moving runners along, he could add a new element to the Yankee attack, even if it doesn’t always place him on base. The Yankees don’t need to add stars, and GM Brian Cashman didn’t bring him on to put folks in the seats; there’s some legitimate chance to solidify the team even further.
But there’s also the warm side of the pillow. The absolute worst-case scenario is that his play continues to curtail under the increased spotlight that shines on every headline-creating deal for the Yanks. Following this, misplaced pressures for him to produce like its 2004 again follow, and Joe Girardi is forced to demote him to become a part-time, or even purely backup outfielder. This could create a disgruntled star that has trouble coping with a minor role on a team he approved being dealt to, and that’s not what you need in any clubhouse, even one as hierarchal and veteran-laden as the Yankees.
However, even the gist of discussing the impact of adding a guy barely hitting .260 is the type of thing that only can happen with this type of combination. The highest-profile team in the game takes a flier on getting the last bit of life out of a former star. There’s more work that needs to be done in NY before the season is over, whether it’s getting completely healthy or making a move that brings an actual impact player NOW into the fold. But one thing is for certain, the pot has been stirred in a way that, love 'em or hate 'em, only the Evil Empire can pull off. The always thick plot in Yankee Stadium just got thicker, even if it’s bigger on the headlines than it is in the box score…for now.
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