Fantasy Baseball 2012: Expect Only Modest Gains from Ichiro's Trade to Yankees
I have mixed feelings about the Yankees trading for Ichiro Suzuki on Monday.
Yes, Ichiro's a big-name veteran who could fill the outfield void of Brett Gardner sitting out the remainder of the season, due to injury.
Yes, he has a lifetime batting average of .322 in the months of August and September, with a rock-solid on-base percentage of .360.
And yes, Ichiro (2,534 major league hits) is a borderline Hall of Famer who could have made a genuine run at 4,000 hits if he had started his major league career at 21 or 22—instead of coming over from the Japanese League at age 27.
But from a fantasy perspective, this transaction doesn't portend to have the impact of Hunter Pence getting dealt to the Phillies last summer, Kevin Youkilis joining the White Sox last month or maybe even Raul Ibanez (12 HR, 42 RBI, .242 BA) signing with the Yankees last winter.
Theoretically, Ichiro should see a boost in runs with the Yankees, but then there's the time-tested adage of, "You can't steal first base."
It's not my place to say Ichiro could never be a productive short-term hitter on a team full of dynamic offensive talents—but at the same time, it's very hard to look at his woeful lows in batting average (.261) and on-base percentage (.288) with the Mariners this season and chalk it up to the burden of carrying a last-place club (even if the Mariners are going nowhere fast in the American League West).
For the second straight season, Suzuki is not a candidate to reach 200 hits—the absurd benchmark of excellence he established for 10 straight years (2001-10). In this span, Ichiro has also incurred a substantial drop-off in hits, runs, doubles, batting average, OBP and OPS (on a positive note, he's been relatively stagnant in homers, RBI and steals).
With the Yankees, there's also the matter of where Ichiro will bat on a regular basis. For Monday's "homecoming" in Seattle, the right fielder was eighth in the New York lineup, going 1-for-4 (single) with a stolen base.
There are two ways to look at an aging superstar batting eighth with his new club: The optimist would describe the move as taking the pressure off a hitter who's been struggling for an extended period. From a team standpoint, the pessimist would characterize the low spot as a passive-aggressive way of establishing low-to-mild expectations for the player in his new environment.
For once, I'll take the pessimistic side of an argument and proclaim that Ichiro, at 38, will likely hit .265 with the Yankees, with the occasional spectacular play sprinkled into the mix.
And I'm not saying that because Ichiro has considerably more gray hairs than me—even though we're the same age.
Bottom line: Ichiro is certainly worth rostering in 12-team leagues for the season's final two months, but only for the owner who craves steals and a modest bump in runs. Otherwise, this is the perfect time to ship Suzuki to a fantasy GM whose future expectations have been clouded by Ichiro's once-dominant past.
Jay Clemons can be reached on Twitter, day or night, at @ATL_JayClemons.
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