Ichiro Suzuki and the adjustment to his new role

King: Soriano considering retirement after 2014
Open Thread: 2/20 Camp Notes

Back during the late-90s dynasty, the Yankees always seemed to have a deep bench laden with former stars who accepted reduced roles. Guys like Wade Boggs, Tim Raines, and Darryl Strawberry all excelled as part-timers during the dynasty years, mostly as platoon players. They accepted their role and adjusted to the reduced playing time, helping the team as high-end role players.

In Ichiro Suzuki, the 2014 Yankees will also feature a former star in a part-time role. The club has added three outfielders to Brett Gardner in the last seven months (Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury), pushing the 40-year-old Ichiro into what amounts to a glorified fifth outfielder role. If the season started today, he would be a pinch-runner and come off the bench as a defensive replacement in right field. That’s it.

Needless to say, being a part-timer will be a new experience for Ichiro. This dude is a global superstar who has been an everyday player since 1994, and when it’s all said and done, he’ll be inducted into the Hall of Fame in two countries. His skills have slipped with age though, and last year he hit only .262/.297/.342 (75 OPS+) in 555 plate appearances. The Yankees had to replace him as their everyday right fielder if they wanted to contend. Ichiro now has to adjust to a new role.

“This is a place where the greatest players gather and play, so I’m really excited to play with those guys,” said Ichiro to Chad Jennings yesterday. “Obviously with the additions, I’m going to have to find a place for myself, but I worked hard this offseason. I worked on a lot of things, and throughout Spring Training, hopefully those things will come together and we’ll see where it goes from there.”

I actually think that, given his skillset, Ichiro would be excellent in his current role. His defense did fall off a bit last year but it was still solidly above-average, plus he remains a stolen base threat and a smart base-runner. I think experience is something that can very valuable in role players; you know Ichiro will make the smart base-running play and be in good position defensively. Speed and defense are the things he can still offer his team. He just can’t hit anymore.

The question isn’t so much if Suzuki still has the skills to be a pinch-runner or defensive replacement (I believe he does), but whether he can adjust to that role. Going from an everyday player to a part-timer is tough. Veteran plays tend to be set with their routines and finding a new one is difficult. Staying sharp when you aren’t on the field everyday is not something guys can do with a snap of the fingers. Being a productive bench player is something of an art.

The Yankees shopped Ichiro in trades this offseason but weren’t able to find a taker, so at this point it seems likely he will open the season with the team. I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect him to be as productive as Raines was back in the day, but I think Ichiro could be one of the best backup outfielders in baseball this year, as long as he figures out how to/is willing to adjust to decreased playing time. He can definitely be an asset to the Yankees off the bench if he does make that adjustment.

King: Soriano considering retirement after 2014
Open Thread: 2/20 Camp Notes
  • emac2

    Ichiro will be much better this year without the burdan of starting every day.

    He’s also a perfect 4th outfielder who will start a lot and play late in a lot of games as a pinch runner/ defensive replacement.

  • JV

    Maybe he can be our Dave Roberts. Steal one base in a huge game and the salary will be more than worth it.

  • Jed

    I love that they kept Ichiro! If Ichiro can help the Tanaka adjust to his American experience, improving overall output by a start a year would be about 3.3% (1/30 = .033), that would be over $5 in value by itself. Kuroda will also be helpful, but I don’t think Kuroda was ever as famous as Ichiro. Plus it’s nice to have more than one work-friend.

    Does Soriano speak any Japanese?

    • The Great Gonzo

      I think you are HIGHLY overrating that two Japanese guys on the same team will be beneficial to either one.

      Oh wait, maybe this is why Jeter was the greatest of all time, because he was surrounded by white AND black guys all throughout his career!


      • Preston

        It’s not entirely racist. He doesn’t speak English. Having Hiroki, Ichiro (and their three translators) means he isn’t completely isolated at the ball park for 162 games. I mean not that he can’t be friends or at least friendly with other guys on the team. But it’d have to be through the translator, gestures or whatever English/Japanese gets picked up by guys during the season. Not a lot of meaningful conversation to be had there, and probably a lot of frustration. I don’t know that it’ll effect his performance that much though and he might be better off in the long run to have to be immersed right away, best way to learn a language and all.

      • TomG

        This isn’t racist at all. I’ve spent months on end working and travelling in foreign countries, and it’s always easier when you’re with countrymen. It gets really exhausting being in a place where you don’t speak the language, especially when the languages have virtually no overlap, like English and Japanese. Having people around who you can speak in shorthand with eases the burden tremendously. You probably shouldn’t be so quick to pontificate about experiences you obviously haven’t had.

        • Hawkeye

          +1 Not to mention having somebody else that can help you with explaining cultural norms since they went through the same transition themselves.

          • Mandy Stankiewicz

            (cue the Mr. Baseball clip)

        • OldYanksFan

          Not to mention that Hiroki can help him find the local McDonalds and Pizza shops.

  • George

    If you look at a week where you play all 7 days, and you give each guy at least 1 day off (play 6)you could get Gardner 5 days in left, 1 in center, and 1 off, Ellsbury 6 days in center, and 1 off, Beltran/Soriano 2 right, 4 dh, 1 off or 1 right, 2 left, 3 dh, 1 off, and Ichiro plays 4 days in right, with 3 off, and can always fill in for defense, of if someone needs an extra day. Simple math.

    • The Great Gonzo

      Yes, this is by far the best case scenario for his playing time.

      • Greg c

        The best case for him, sure. If he’s playing that much, it’s pretty bad for everyone else.

    • JGYank

      Jeter will probably DH once a week or something like that and McCann and Tex may need some days there as well. I would expect Ichiro to start maybe twice a week (one day for Beltran and one for Sori) plus come in as a pinch runner or defensive replacement other days. The rest sounds good.

      Or an injury could happen and things will sort itself out with Ichiro filling in for the injured guy and the remaining outfielder (Sori or Beltran) DHing. When Jeter needs to DH just take Ichrio out and put the remaining outfielder in the field and Ryan plays SS so Ichiro and Ryan won’t be in the lineup at the same time.

  • willie W

    beltran and ells could end up injured in the first week of the season

    • jjyank

      What a great outlook.

    • kentkroemer

      …or by the end of spring training …lol. Ichiro is gonna surprise people I think this year. He’s a very determined individual with a lot of pride.

      • WhittakerWalt

        Didn’t he have any pride last year?

        • I’m One

          Don’t under estimate the power of this year’s pride!

    • Mr. Roth

      So could Kershaw, Lester, Pedroia, Harper, Trout, Cano, King Felix, etc…

      Cancel the 2014 season because injuries are a possibility.

    • Jorge Steinbrenner

      We appreciate the input.

    • Havok9120

      You’re officially trying much too hard.

      Were we ignoring you too much? Is that what did it?

  • j

    OT but Ruben Amaro is such a little b*&$#.


    Draft a DES, he doesn’t sign, lie to the NCAA about improper player-agent contact so he doesn’t get cleared to play.

    • Preston

      I hope the kid gets cleared to play. It’s really petty on the Phillies part (they reported their 6th round pick too) and Amaro passing the buck is cowardly. If I was a college player with eligibility left I would just let the Phillies know not to draft me, because I wouldn’t even show up to negotiate.

  • LarryM Fl

    Girardi will have to be on his game when it comes to playing time allocation. Jeter (SS),third base (?), Roberts (2B), the OF will be a turnstyle around Soriano and Beltran in RF or at DH.

    IMHO this season is all about Girardi and his ability to keep this older team fresh with efficient usage in the field. The Binder will be tattered from the turning of the pages. I suggest an Ipad with all info downloaded.

    • Preston

      If he manages to squeeze half as much out of this group as he did out of last seasons roster, I think we’ll easily be a 90 win team. And seriously Hal, stop being cheap and get Joe an Ipad.

      • Havok9120

        I keep hoping MLB will finally let them have tablets.

        Oh well.

  • TWTR

    I wonder if his reverse split continues.

    • Havok9120

      Isn’t it a career-long thing?

  • Robbie Hustle

    Not sold on Ichiro as the 4th outfielder. Would much prefer this spot for Zolio Almonte as he can play all 3 OF positions, has a cannon arm, can run, doesn’t swing a wet noodle like Ichiro does and he’s about 20 years younger.

    • Preston

      I’m not an Ichiro fan. But I’m not ready to crown Zoilo Almonte as the better option. Ichiro outhit him last season.

      Ichiro .262/.297/.342
      Zoilo .236/.274/.302

      BsR gave him negative value on the basepaths and while UZR rated him as a great defender in the corner OF spots the fact that he has only made 21 starts in CF in the minors over the last three years doesn’t make me too confident that he can play CF at the MLB level.

    • ALZ

      Zoilo is your typical AAAA guy. You are really hyping him up there.

    • Havok9120

      And Jorge Vasquez is a stud power hitter.

      And Ronnier Mustelier is going to the Hall.

  • forensic

    Wow, this could almost be taken as a complementary article on Ichiro from Mike.

    This afternoon, “Eduardo Nunez fits as the utility man”.

    Tomorrow, “Why Jacoby Ellsbury will earn his contract”.

    • Havok9120

      Post of the day.

  • sjb23

    Actually, right now Ichiro is the 5th outfielder (Ellsbury, Gardner, Beltan, and Soriano)on a roster that needs an extra infielder. 4 outfielders, 2 catchers, and 7 infielders. Kelly Johnson becomes the 5th outfielder. IMO Ichiro needs to be traded or released and Almonte needs to be playing everyday in Scranton. He gets called up if someone gets hurt.

    • Preston

      Could happen, but I doubt it.

    • ALZ

      They do not need more infielders.

      If Soriano/Beltran figure to DH quite a bit, then you really have no true backup outfielder. They really don’t need 7 infielders, only 4 can start at a time. If one gets injured or in ineffective then you just call someone else up. Sizemore and Anna are going to be much ready to make the jump if they are playing everyday in AAA than sitting the bench. They won’t get at bats anyways if the other guys are healthy.

  • billbybob

    Is Ichiro wearing an Iwo Jima t shirt? Seems kind of weird for a Japanese guy.

    • chris

      Huh, possibly, I just noticed that, it does look like the same position for the men doesn’t it? I can’t see the flag clearly though.

  • Greg c

    All the dynasty guys mentioned were far more useful (at least at the plate) than Ichiro was even before he came to NY. Boggs was pretty much a full-time player until his last season, and posted starting caliber numbers even through then. The “declined” Boggs got on base 38% of the time in 400+ PAs in a reduced role. Rock had similar numbers in a smaller role. Straw was 132 OPS+ in 345 PAs in his last real season.

    Ichiro is worthy of close to 0 PAs, since he’s been a below average batter for 3 years. he’d be a cool defensive replacement and pinch runner, though.

    • Preston

      I mean he’s no Greg Golson, but he’s alright.