By Sweeny Murti
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You learn to expect anything around the Yankees. So Ichiro Suzuki shouldn’t come as that big of a shock.
Ever since the news last week that Brett Gardner was down for the year, the names came and went. Shane Victorino made the most sense, it seemed, but would probably be too costly to get. Rick Ankiel was cut loose, but not the right fit, it appeared. Heard Nate McLouth—on a tear at AAA in another organization—was a possibility, but not a clear upgrade.
Then we find out the Yankees just traded for Ichiro. What?
Okay, this doesn’t go into the overkill category that “trade-for-A-Rod-and-make-him-a-third-baseman” seemed in 2004. But this definitely felt like a Yankee move.
Ichiro hasn’t had one of his great seasons since 2010. But he’s still able to play some outfield defense, contribute from the bottom of the order, and steal some bases. Sounds a little like Brett Gardner doesn’t it?
(Ichiro, by the way, is playing right field while Nick Swisher recovers from a strained hip flexor. He will move to left when Swisher is back.)
We’ve seen Ichiro from afar, but what can we really expect from him at 38? I asked Raul Ibanez, who spent five years as a teammate during Ichiro’s prime.
“He’s meticulous, his preparation is impeccable,” Ibanez said. “He can steal bases, play great defense, has a great arm, and he can still hit. You know he’s one of the best bat control guys in the world, and he can still hit. And I think this environment is going to be great for him. He’s going to be energized by the atmosphere and the intensity.”
That’s the upside the Yankees are counting on. Ichiro takes the place of DeWayne Wise, and he probably needs to give the Yankees only a little more than what Wise did. He needs to be able to be more of an everyday player, keeping the aging Raul Ibanez and Andruw Jones off the field and in the DH role. Ichiro is still athletic enough at his age that he’s clearly better defenders than both of those guys, and playing in left field will ease some of the burden on Curtis Granderson, who is playing outstanding defense this year despite having more ground to cover in the absence of Gardner.
This is not one of those trades where you say the Yankees had an obvious need and they got the absolute perfect piece to the puzzle. But the Yankees ran off to the best record in baseball with a left field combo of Jones, Ibanez, Wise, and Jayson Nix.
Call me obvious, but I think this is better.