When the Yankees asked Ichiro Suzuki to take the short walk from the Seattle clubhouse to the one occupied by the squad from New York before a July night game against the Mariners in 2012, the organization couldn't have expected to get the production it did.
The trade that sent Ichiro from the struggling home team to the playoff-contending Yankees provided New York with a top-of-the-lineup guy who would close out the season hitting .322.
With 5 home runs and 14 stolen bases supplementing the surprising spike in average, Ichiro provided the Yankees with a scrappy dynamic. The team had been missing this since Brett Gardner's early-season injury sidelined him for most of the year. Granted, most of that robust .322 average came from a 25-for-47 (.532) tear in late September, which turned an otherwise mediocre Yankees tenure into a stellar trial period.
So with his two-year $13 million contract being made official, what can we expect from the aging superstar?
First and foremost, Yankee fans can expect another couple years of much-needed speed in an otherwise power-heavy lineup. While Ichiro may have lost a step or two since the years of defying baseball logic by beating out routine ground balls to shortstop, the guy can still get down the line with above average speed. As a distraction on the base paths, Yankee fans can also hope to see Ichiro disrupt the flow of the game quite nicely for the power bats behind him.
Ichiro's style will afford Joe Girardi the opportunity to get creative with the lineup card. Equipped with two players of very similar style in Gardner and Suzuki, expect Girardi to try out different combinations in an effort to maximize offensive production. The two speedsters will flank the poles of the lineup and allow the Yankees to torment opposing pitchers with multiple styles of play. We all know the team both relies and thrives on the long ball, but the added dynamic of blazing speed at two spots in the lineup can only make this offense more potent.
As far as batting average goes, I don't think we can expect a full season of .322 production like we saw for most of the second half last year. Realistically, with the protection he will receive in that lineup, Yankee fans should expect to see Ichiro traverse both sides of .300 for a majority of the season.
Those who are down on the aging veteran will claim he doesn't have this level of production left in the tank. But that argument is based on years of data gathered from the twilight of his career with a perennially irrelevant Mariners club. The importance of a team's success is oftentimes overlooked when it comes to individual performance; look for the playoff potential of the 2013 Yankees to help perpetuate the resurgence of Ichiro's career like we saw in the later months of 2012.
Finally, a factor that is sometimes overlooked, Yankee fans can expect another year of stellar defense from No. 31. While he may no longer possess the cannon of an arm that stunned fans and players alike when he entered the league in 2001, Ichiro can still put an end to a runner's aspirations for the plate on a base hit to the outfield.
A weapon like that can be the difference between a guy getting into scoring position or staying put at first on a deep fly to right. Furthermore, with his aforementioned speed, Ichiro can still run down a surefire gap-double with the best of them. Expect to see plenty of shocked opponents cutting their sprint to second short and, instead, looping back to the dugout with a look of disbelief.
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