Friday: It’s a two-year contract worth approximately $13M according to Heyman. Other teams, including the Phillies, reportedly offered two years and $14-15M, so Ichiro took a slight discount to return to New York. Heyman notes the team considered a one-year offer worth more than the $6.5M average annual value of this two-year contract, but apparently decided against it. I would have greatly preferred a one-year commitment given the 2014 payroll plan and Ichiro’s age. Sounds like the deal is still pending a physical.
Wednesday: The Yankees will re-sign Ichiro Suzuki according to Jon Heyman, Ken Rosenthal, and Craig Carton. The deal is not done yet because the two sides are still hammering out some details, but it’s only a matter of time before those are worked out. It sounds like there’s a chance he’ll wind up with a two-year contract, which would not jibe with the team’s “one-year contract or bust” mentality in advance of the 2014 payroll plan. The club will need to clear a 40-man roster spot once the deal is official.
Ichiro, 39, hit .322/.340/.454 (114 wRC+) in 240 plate appearances for the Yankees after being acquired from the Mariners at the trade deadline. He didn’t hit much in the first six weeks after the trade (.271/.297/.398 in 140 PA), but was arguably the team’s best hitter down the stretch in the final three weeks of the season (.394/.402/.532 in 100 PA). Ichiro hit just .268/.302/.342 in over 1,200 plate appearances from the start of 2011 through the trade, so the Yankees are clearly banking on him being revitalized by playing for a veteran-laden contender.
In order to facilitate the trade, Ichiro agreed to a set of conditions that included batting lower in the order and sitting against tough lefties. He earned a higher slot in the lineup and full-time at-bats later in the season, but it remains to be seen how the Yankees will use him going forward. Does he automatically hit first or second and play everyday based on the strength of his strong finish? Or will he essentially have to re-prove himself and start the year at the bottom of the order and on the bench against tough lefties? I’d prefer the latter, but that’s just me.
One thing the Yankees will clearly get with Ichiro is premium defense. He’ll slide back into his natural right field position and provide both range and a strong arm (even if it takes him forever to actually throw the ball), giving the team its best defensive outfield alignment in quite some time. Ichiro is also a true global superstar who transcends baseball. This financial impact is often overstated (as we learned during the Hideki Matsui years), but there are plenty of marketing and merchandising dollars to be made by having him on the roster. It’s also worth noting that Ichiro is only 394 hits away from 3,000 for his MLB career, though reaching that milestone within the next two years seems unlikely.
With Kevin Youkilis on board and Ichiro on his way back, the Yankees addressed two of their biggest position player needs this week. They still lack a starting-caliber catcher and need a DH, but one will be far easier to find than the other. It’s also imperative that they find a right-handed hitting outfielder since they now have three left-handed starters who had varying degrees of success against southpaws over the last three years — Ichiro (87 wRC+), Brett Gardner (103 wRC+), and Curtis Granderson (112 wRC+). Scott Hairston seems to the be the only viable free agent option for that role, but a trade is always possible.