The struggles of the New York Yankees during the 2012 ALCS were in large part because of the their aging players. While the team must look to get younger, they should make bringing back 39-year-old outfielder Ichiro Suzuki a priority for 2013.
Ichiro is no longer the same superstar who patrolled the Seattle Mariners outfield for more than a decade. While his production has declined over the last several seasons, he’s still a useful player who can positively impact the Yankees.
The mid-season trade from Seattle to the Yankees this past season seemed to rejuvenate Ichiro. After hitting just .261 in his first 95 games with Seattle, he batted .322 in 67 games after donning the pinstripes. He has always enjoyed hitting in the new Yankee Stadium, batting .350 in 49 career games. If used properly, there is no reason why Ichiro can’t have another .300 season in 2013.
The Yankees will get the best out of Ichiro by not treating him like a star. Instead of batting lead off he is much better suited hitting at the bottom of the order. His high contact rate plays up perfectly in that role, as evidenced by his .329 average in 2012 when hitting eighth or ninth.
Part of what makes Ichiro an appealing outfield option is his durability. He has led the AL in games played in each of the past three years and has averaged 159 per season throughout his 12-year career. There is no reason to believe that this amazingly conditioned athlete won't continue his track record of health.
Aging players are often relegated to platoons to take advantage of pitching matchups, but that's not something the Yankees need to be concerned about with Ichiro. Last season he hit .283 against righties and .284 against lefties, and carries a .319/.330 split for his career.
The Yankees already have Curtis Granderson and Brett Gardner slotted for outfield spots next year, and B/R’s Kenny DeJohn reports that the team is looking at free agent Torii Hunter. While Hunter is a fine player, he is also near the end of the line and doesn't bring the same skill set Ichiro can provide, like stealing bases and being able to play all three outfield positions proficiently.
It’s possible the Yankees will choose to pursue both Hunter and Ichiro, but Yanks Go Yard’s Chris Carelli believes that it will be one or the other. While both outfielders are nearing the end of their respective careers, they both remain too productive to be relegated to playing once or twice a week, so the Yankees may have to choose who they think is the best bet going forward.
A final argument in favor of Ichiro is his financial impact. The Yankees are baseball’s fiscal titan, and maintaining that position is all about marketing their brand. Keeping Japanese-born Ichiro in the fold ensures the team taps into the vast network of Japanese press who follow him and the legions of adoring international fans.
The New York Post’s Joel Sherman says a one-year deal worth $5 to $8 million with an option for a second year would be enough to bring back Ichiro. If that's the case, the Yankees should jump at the chance. After all, Hank Steinbrenner can probably find that type of money just by digging through the cushions of his furniture.
The Yankees need to get younger, but keeping Ichiro around a while longer is an exception they can’t afford to pass up.
Statistics via BaseballReference
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