With just over a month left in the season, Brian Cashman and the Yankees' front office are surely beginning to consider whether to re-sign the handful of free agents on the club.
Among those free agents to be are Ichiro Suzuki and Hiroki Kuroda.
Ichiro was acquired in a trade with the Seattle Mariners a little over a month ago to fill the hole in the outfield left by Brett Gardner, who is out for the season after having elbow surgery. Ichiro has done well in pinstripes, hitting .287 with three home runs in 34 games (compared to .261 with four long balls in 95 games with Seattle). He's played good defense at all three outfield positions as well.
Kuroda has been a godsend for the Yankees' pitching, as CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte and Ivan Nova have all missed time this year with injuries. Kuroda has been the stabilizer. He is 12-9 with a 2.98 ERA and a 1.103 WHIP, both numbers being the lowest of his career.
However, no decision is easy. Brett Gardner will be back next year and the Yankees have other options who could join the starting rotation, but here are the three major reasons that the Yankees should re-sign both Ichiro and Kuroda.
Reason #1: Both Players Give the Yankees Exposure in Japan
When Hideki Matsui was on the Yankees, fans in Japan would wake up in the middle of the night to watch his games, which were broadcast on Japanese television. The team had almost as many Japanese beat writers as local, and Japanese companies advertised in Yankee Stadium.
Since the Yankees let Matsui go, they've been missing that.
Ichiro is as big a star as Matsui in Japan, and Kuroda is arguably the most successful Japanese pitcher ever to pitch in America.
Most Yankee fans do not really care about the team's exposure in the Far East, but you can bet your bottom dollar the Yankees' brass does.
Reason #2: Re-Signing Both Players Will Help the Yankees Get Their Payroll Below $189 million in 2014
The Yankees are trying to get the payroll below $189 million by 2014 to greatly reduce their luxury tax bill, and re-signing both Ichiro and Kuroda will help them do that.
According to Cot's Baseball Contracts, the Yankees have over $75 million committed to just three players (Alex Rodriguez, CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira). They will have to fill out the rest of the roster, which will likely include Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson, with about $114 million.
The bottom line is that the team does not have the money to sign Josh Hamilton or Zack Greinke this winter, and it probably can't even afford to re-sign Nick Swisher.
They need cheaper options, which Ichiro is at this point in his career. And Kuroda will likely ask for a raise on his $10 million salary based on his 2012 performance, but that's a bargain for his numbers and it gives the Yankees some cost-certainty going forward.
Reason #3: Re-Signing Ichiro and Kuroda Would Make the Yankees a Better Team in 2013
With Nick Swisher likely departing as a free agent this offseason, the Yankees will need a right fielder. Why not Ichiro?
Even at 38 (39 next year), Ichiro is a good defensive outfielder, gets on base enough and still has above-average speed. In a lineup that includes Cano, Granderson and Teixeira, the Yankees don't need another Silver Slugger Award winner on the roster; they need almost exactly what Ichiro brings.
And the Yankees, like every team, need starting pitching. Sabathia and Phil Hughes will be back, and presumably Ivan Nova will be back in the rotation as well unless his shoulder injury is worse than expected. Michael Pineda should be back from his torn labrum, but is certainly a question mark after missing all of 2012. Andy Pettitte's return is unknown.
What is known is that Kuroda is the only starter who has been healthy and consistent all year.
Both from a financial and a competitive standpoint, bringing back Ichiro Suzuki and Hiroki Kuroda would be smart moves for the Yankees.